WASHINGTON – Competition for the highest-quality academics and best students has driven the costs of higher education up over the past two decades, at the same time that state funding has dropped.
At the University of Maryland, College Park — as at many colleges and universities across the country — it has fallen to students to make up the difference.
At a panel discussion Tuesday on the spiraling costs of higher education, University President C.D. Mote Jr. said the state recognizes the value of higher education but has slashed its support because it knows the school can raise tuition to cover its costs.
Consequently, tuition and fees for in-state full-time undergraduates at College Park have increased by 77 percent since 1990. In fiscal 2005, tuition and fees will make up the largest share of the school’s income for the first time, accounting for 28 percent of the budget compared to 27 percent from the state. State funding accounted for 31 percent of the university budget in 1998.
Mote said those tuition increases have come at a cost: Today, only about 20 percent of students at the College Park campus come from families with annual incomes of less than $25,000.
“We have to think of a number of creative mechanisms that will allow kids of low- and middle-income families to have a top-class education they can afford,” he said at the Washington forum sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly.
Even with the tuition increases, university spokesman George Cathcart said the school has had to lay off staff and cut some nonacademic programs to save money. And students who cannot afford the tuition are left without a college education or with a huge debt.
“The people who are most harmed by this high debt are people from these low-income levels, and they are the people who should be able to benefit more from higher education,” Cathcart said.
Mote said the university is looking at ways to make college affordable for those students.
He highlighted Maryland Pathways, which pays tuition, fees and room and board for Maryland residents from families making less than $20,000 a year in exchange for those students working on campus eight to 10 hours a week. The program started this fall with federal, state and university grants, and has already attracted a couple hundred freshmen.
Mote said the school is also working on a program that would limit the debt of middle-income students to no more than the cost of one year of attendance.
Another alternative is community college. Mote pointed out that any student who graduates from a Maryland community college with an associate’s degree is automatically granted admission to College Park.
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