BALTIMORE – Students at most public colleges and universities will pay more for tuition this semester as the University System of Maryland struggles to fill a $67 million budget gap. The system’s Board of Regents decided Thursday to impose a rare mid- semester tuition increase of no more than 5 percent to institutions across the system, with the exception of Coppin State College, which has a high percentage of students on federal tuition assistance, and the University of Maryland University College, which receives a small portion of state money. Undergraduate students will owe an extra $76 to $333, depending on residency requirements, and graduate students, most of whom pay per credit hour, face an average increase of 3.8 percent. At College Park, the system’s flagship campus, undergraduate tuition will rise $114 for Maryland residents and $333 for out-of-state students. “We’re squeezed in so many ways,” Chancellor William E. Kirwan told the board. “If we don’t get additional tuition revenue this spring, the consequences, we feel, are unacceptable.”
University and system officials said they realize the impact on students and will work with them on repayment plans. The board’s action comes after Gov. Robert Ehrlich last week announced cuts of $36.6 million to the system’s budget this fiscal year, on top of a $30.4 million reduction imposed by former Gov. Parris Glendening. Ehrlich’s 2004 budget proposal freezes the system’s funding at $800 million, about $67 million less than what was appropriated for 2003. University officials said Glendening’s reduction did not require a tuition hike, but new cuts would compromise academic programs unless fees were increased.
The tuition hike is expected to bring in nearly $13 million, about 20 percent of the slashed funds, Kirwan said. The rest of the cuts will be recouped through elimination of 198 vacant positions, possible furlough days at several institutions and reductions in operating expenses. Though the spring tuition increase will help solve the system’s 2003 budget problems, officials acknowledged spending in the years ahead will be tight – for students and administrators. The board already imposed a 4 percent tuition increase for the fall, and several college presidents said Wednesday they were scaling back next year’s faculty recruitment efforts. In some cases, administrative cuts already are being felt. “The building’s getting dirtier,” said David Ramsey, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “It’s taking a little longer to pay the bills.” The decision to raise tuition passed 11-1 Thursday. The dissenting vote was cast by Regent Nathan A. Chapman Jr., who said he favored an even larger tuition hike to avoid eliminating vacant positions. “Perhaps we should draw the line and say our employees are important,” Chapman said. “The jobs that we are cutting, to me, are essential to the quality of this system.” University officials have pledged to offer flexibility to students who owe more money. At College Park, students will be given additional time to pay the balance, and the university will “protect students on need-based financial aid,” said President C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr. Mote called the increase “necessary” and the alternative “a lot worse.” Without the mid-year increases, system officials said they would have had to impose one to four furlough days systemwide, lay off about 550 full-time employees, including faculty, and lay off some part-time students. In addition, the system would have faced a reduction of its bond rating. Nevertheless, news of the board’s decision left students confused and upset as they considered the prospects of receiving a second spring tuition bill.
The system sent letters to students earlier this month warning of a possible mid-year tuition boost, but some said the decision still came as a surprise. “If I went into a store and bought a pair of pants, they’re not going to come knock on my door and say, `I’ve raised the price,'” said Tim Tucker, 33, who is enrolled in a three-year physical therapy program at the University or Maryland, Baltimore. Tucker said he started classes Jan. 13 and already paid his bill. “I do intend to make some phone calls,” he said. Others said they would favor a larger increase next fall over the mid-semester tuition hike. “I don’t like it to hit all at once,” said Erik Odom, a 26-year-old biotechnology major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Regent David Nevins said the system could not afford to hold off: “The fact of the matter is, the money’s needed now.” – 30 – CNS-1-23-03