ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Board of Regents Financial Aid Task Force is considering a series of measures to address the “crisis” caused by rising tuition costs and inadequate financial aid.
Rebalancing need-based and merit-based aid, applying cost-saving initiatives to need-based aid and private fund-raising are some strategies recommended to increase access for eligible students in a draft report released by the group Wednesday.
Rising tuition costs coupled with inadequate financial aid “may be a crisis of our time,” said William E. Kirwan, University System of Maryland Chancellor.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for low-income students to afford higher education in Maryland, the group said.
Currently, need-based aid accounts for only 25 percent of total institutional aid offered to undergraduates, while the majority is merit-based, according to the task force’s assessment. These proportions need to be more balanced, they said.
And since fiscal year 2002, education costs have skyrocketed. Tuition rose an average 22 percent at Maryland’s public four-year institutions, according to a report released by the Maryland Higher Education Commission last week.
“We are out of balance now,” said Kirwan. “We have a disproportionate amount of money going to merit aid.”
The task force initiatives are meant to curb mounting loan debts. By offering increased aid, eligible students will be less apt to take out expensive loans.
Currently the debt of the highest need students — those whose expected family income falls below 25 percent of attendance costs — hovers around the same level as their peers. The task force would like to see high-need students pay at least 25 percent less in debt than their peers and see the debt burden for students overall diminish.
For example, at Coppin State University in 2002, 40 percent of all students qualified for need-based aid, but 96 percent ended up borrowing money. That left them owing an average of $14,100, according to statistics from U.S. News and World Report.
Undergraduates are not the only students with insufficient financial assistance.
Only 188 graduate students received awards from the state’s Professional and Graduate Scholarship program this year, compared to 462 in 2002.
The task force report calls upon Maryland industries to provide support to the program.
The report also asks the state to set aside extra money for transfer students and encourages institutions to develop a program requesting matching funds from the state to finance transfer student education.
A national education group gave Maryland an “F” in affordability along with 36 states nationwide. Maryland suffers alongside the other states from a decrease in Federal Pell Grant funds — originally allocated to help low-income students go to college.
But instead of compensating for diminished federal funds, Gov. Robert Ehrlich approved a 14 percent reduction in resources to Maryland’s higher education institutions last year, according to university system figures.
“Our nation must take steps right now to seriously expand programs that improve access to higher education so that we can open the doors of postsecondary education for all students,” said Arnold L. Mitchem, Council for Opportunity in Higher Education president, in a statement released yesterday. Maryland’s Committee on Education Policy and Finance will review a revised version of the report Nov. 9. And the report will be up for final assessment by the Board of Regents in December.