ANNAPOLIS – Unlike other parents, Vincent Brannigan hasn’t had to worry about college savings plans and mounting tuition costs.
The father of two daughters figured that was a perk he’d always enjoy as a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. Because he’s been a faculty member since 1977, Brannigan’s children are entitled to free tuition to any school within the University System of Maryland.
But now the tuition remission benefit is threatened under another round of proposed cuts to the state’s higher education budget. An analysis released by the Department of Legislative Services recommends tuition waivers be slashed from the system’s budget, a savings of about $9.3 million. Those cuts would come on top of a $67 million reduction in fiscal year 2004.
Officials at College Park, the system’s flagship campus, notified faculty and staff of the proposal last week in a mass e-mail, which left employees feeling anxious, and in many cases, angry.
“I’ve been working as a public servant all these years so that my children will have this benefit,” said Brannigan, a lawyer who teaches in the engineering school.
“The outrageous nature of it is so unbelievable,” he said. “They’re raiding my children’s education fund.”
The proposal right now is just a recommendation in the DLS fiscal 2004 budget overview. But House Democratic leaders crafting a budget that does not rely on Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s anticipated revenue from slot machines have said they are considering cutting the tuition remission benefit as well.
Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said last week eliminating the tuition perk is “an issue, among others, that is being discussed and debated.”
“There’s no definitive decision,” Busch said. “Obviously, for those who are in that group, it could be a tough issue for them.”
Ehrlich has not taken a position on the proposed cuts to tuition benefits, said his spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver. She said his slots proposal “has to pass, because the alternatives are unthinkable.”
Tuition for full-time undergraduates at College Park ranges from $5,670 for Maryland students to $14,434 for out-of-state residents. The Board of Regents recently approved a rare mid-year tuition hike of no more than 5 percent.
The university accepted 774 students in 2002 whose parents were university employees, and whose tuition costs totaled about $1.3 million, said George Cathcart, a College Park spokesman. Another 771 university employees took advantage of the tuition perk and enrolled in classes the same year, racking up a combined $652,062 tuition bill.
Spouses of employees also took classes that year, at a cost of $57,407, he said.
Brannigan is not the only system employee left reeling after seeing the e- mail message.
Andrea Mayorga, who works at College Park’s Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, said she received the news just days after learning her daughter had been accepted to the campus in the fall. Mayorga said she left a job as a database administrator for Lockheed Martin two years ago, just to take advantage of the benefit.
“I took a pay cut to take this job for my daughter’s education,” she said. “I cannot afford to pay for college on what they pay me here.”
College Park officials acknowledged the DLS budget recommendations may never take effect, but the department’s analysis was reason enough to notify employees, they said.
“If it’s on the table, and it’s being recommended by DLS, you can’t dismiss it,” said Ross Stern, a university lobbyist. “Hopefully it won’t happen. But once DLS puts recommendations out there, you have to work hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Several hundred members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees traveled to Annapolis for a rally Monday night, said Joe Lawrence, who represents 3,000 employees at College Park and 6,500 statewide. Lawrence is coordinating a campaign called “Hands Off Our Tuition Remission!” and was printing flyers Tuesday afternoon, he said.
In the e-mail message, Provost William Destler urged faculty and staff to contact their legislators and local officials.
“Tell them what tuition remission and the university mean to you and the state. Tell them what will happen if they consider these cuts,” he wrote.
“It was my feeling that this was a particular benefit that was valued by the entire university community,” he said Tuesday. “That’s why I did it.”
Others also pointed to the importance the benefit holds when it comes to hiring new professors. Many expect it as a condition of employment, they said. “It’s very competitive in higher education, and we’re competing for faculty and staff nationally,” said Francis Canavan, the system’s associate vice chancellor. “We want no more cuts to our system’s budget.” – 30 – CNS-2-11-03