ANNAPOLIS – The red attire was worth a thousand words. Or maybe just one.
The word was emblazoned across the caps and sweatshirts of many of the 400 people gathered Tuesday for Terrapin Pride Day, the annual event in which students and administrators from the University of Maryland, College Park descend upon Annapolis to lobby for higher education.
“Hopefully elected officials here will sense the enthusiasm,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said of the event that drew the university pep band, football coach Ralph Friedgen and mascot Testudo, among others.
University and University System of Maryland officials said they were optimistic about the fruits the day’s labor would reap.
The higher education climate in the State House is “better today than any time in recent years . . . and more informed,” said former delegate and U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings, a member of the Board of Regents.
“Legislators are very supportive,” said University of Maryland, College Park President C.D. Mote Jr., “more supportive of the university than any time since I’ve been here.”
Miller was joined by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and dozens of other lawmakers in meeting and greeting those who trekked from College Park to support higher education at a time when the stakes are high.
The lobby came the day after about 6,000 parents, teachers and students filled Annapolis streets in support of full funding of a landmark public school reform plan, proof that education is shaping up to be a dominant theme in this year’s General Assembly session.
“We’re going to make sure they give us our funding back,” said Tim Daly, the university’s student body president.
About $122 million in cuts to the University System of Maryland over two years led to tuition increases of up to 21 percent. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. level-funded the system this year at $746.2 million, though pay raises and service increases will leave the system with an $80 million hole, administrators said, to be filled partially by tuition increases averaging 10 percent.
Though those tuition increases are tough, students said they were not the only reason they made the bus trip to Annapolis.
“We’re proud of the school we go to,” said sophomore Marshall Vaeth. “We’re not just here complaining.”
In fact, higher education is receiving significant attention this year around the State House.
A special House task force appointed by Busch called for a corporate tax hike to generate funds for universities and a cap on tuition increases. Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, has a similar bill with 29 co-sponsors. A proposal by Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, would limit tuition increases for in-state students without increasing system funding.
Mote, however, was cautiously optimistic about the system’s budget, which is now in the hands of the General Assembly.
“The budget’s not over ’til it’s over,” he said. “There’s not anything we should take for granted.” – 30 – CNS-2-10-04