ANNAPOLIS – Bracing for the possibility of more budget cuts, University System of Maryland officials announced this week that students at the state’s 11 public colleges and universities could face a mid-year tuition increase.
In a letter mailed to students Thursday, Chancellor William E. Kirwan and Clifford M. Kendall, chairman of the system’s Board of Regents, said the increase may become necessary if the state makes further cuts to the university system’s budget.
So far, the system has absorbed $42.5 million in cuts by imposing hiring freezes, eliminating vacant positions and reducing operating expenses, the letter said.
Maryland faces a $1.7 billion budget deficit, and incoming Gov. Robert Ehrlich is expected to announce his plan for closing the gap on Jan. 17.
“The fiscal problem is serious enough that, in fairness to students, (university officials) wanted to alert them of the possibility,” said Francis Canavan, the system’s associate vice chancellor for communication. “We think it’s fair.”
If the system’s 17-member Board of Regents approves a tuition increase, the move would be an unusual step for the university system.
Spokesman Chris Hart said students last saw a mid-year tuition hike about 10 years ago. In 1992, tuition was raised 15 percent, and in 1993, students saw a 3.5 percent hike.
According to the letter, a 2003 tuition increase is not expected to exceed 5 percent for the spring semester.
That means undergraduate students at the College Park campus could owe another $114, and out-of-state students could be responsible for an additional $333, said George Cathcart, communications director at the University of Maryland, College Park, the flagship of the system.
The announcement came as a surprise to some students.
Kristina Dowtin, an education and English major from Brooklyn, N.Y., said she never expected a hike. She found out Thursday after logging on to the College Park Web site.
“Not in the middle of the year, no.” said Dowtin, who holds a work-study job in the Stamp Student Union. “We already figured out my payments. You do it in the beginning of the year.”
But Brandon DeFrehn, president of the Student Government Association, said he felt the system’s warning about a tuition increase was appropriate.
“The only thing they can do is brace for the worst,” DeFrehn said of university officials. “I think it’s a really responsible thing to do.”
If a tuition hike is approved, Hart said he expects each state institution will establish its own payment policies. He suggested that some campuses might consider setting up monthly payment plans or extending billing deadlines.
Students who have already paid fees would be billed again.
“It’s really up to the campuses to determine how best to make this work,” Hart said.
At College Park, Cathcart said officials would likely consider extending the payment deadline for students so that they are not assessed late charges. Hart and Canavan would not say when students would know for sure whether they owe additional money for the spring semester. The decision would come from the Board of Regents and is contingent on whether the state makes additional budget cuts, they said. They did not know when the board would meet next. – 30 – CNS-1-9-03