WASHINGTON – The number of Maryland college students on a waiting list for state-sponsored financial aid increased almost 50 percent this fall, as government funding was stagnant while tuition and the number of college applicants increased.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission has 9,281 students on its waiting list this year, compared to 6,301 last year. Commission officials do not know yet how much total aid they will give out, but they expect it to be around last year’s $79 million.
The stagnant aid picture comes as 2003-2004 tuitions at the University System of Maryland were raised by an average of 13 percent — 16 percent at Salisbury University and the University of Maryland, College Park — which was on top of an “emergency” 5 percent mid-year tuition increase at all campuses except Coppin State College and University College.
“Unfortunately the state is in real tough budgetary times, and there’s not an agency that hasn’t been affected by budget cuts,” said Linda West, a higher education commission spokeswoman.
West said the commission did manage to renew aid for all students who got assistance last year.
“If you’re a student already in the pipeline, we don’t want to tell you (that) you have to come out of school,” she said.
Andrea Hunt, director of the commission’s office of student financial assistance, said waiting-list students will get awards as cancellations occur.
Hunt said the agency did distribute some new awards this fall, but not as many as in previous years. “Funding is pretty much flat” for the state’s largest need-based awards, she said.
Some grants, like Maryland’s Hope scholarships, were not offered to new applicants this fall. Hope offered about $18.4 million to 4,946 people in the 2001-2002 school year.
The number of awards remained steady at about 45,000 between 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, even as the amount of money available inched up from $76 million to $79 million. Officials have not tallied how many awards were granted this year, when available funds remained about the same as last year.
Hunt could not say if funding will remain stagnant next year, but said the commission has asked for additional money from the state.
“Those students in lower-income brackets, they’re not going to have as much assistance,” Hunt said. “They’re either going to have to go to work part time or go to school for a semester, then take a semester off to work.”
Meanwhile, demand for aid appears to be going up. Last school year, 133,692 Marylanders filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the nationwide form that determines aid eligibility. That was up from 118,537 applications from Maryland in the 2001-2002 school year, a 12 percent increase.
“This year and next year are going to be very hard for students,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the Web site finaid.org. “When state support of higher education goes down or remains flat, state tuitions tend to go up tremendously.”
But he is optimistic that the situation could change in the near future.
“Every past time that states have done this . . . it’s only lasted for a couple years,” Kantrowitz said. “Given that we’re entering the third year where states have had double-digit tuition increases, (I see) the year after that improving.”