BALTIMORE – Maryland higher education officials approved measures Tuesday to make more financial aid available for the students who need it most.
The changes, designed to compensate for large tuition increases over the past few years, were approved by the Maryland Board of Regents Education Policy Committee. They still must be accepted by the full board.
Maryland’s institutions would be instructed to hold poorer students “harmless” by decreasing their loan debt and giving need-based aid priority over merit-based aid, according to a report presented by members of the Regents Financial Aid Task Force.
“A student who cannot pay shouldn’t be penalized and not be able to attend college,” said Marvin Mandel, regent and former governor.
The task force drafted the report in response to the 30 percent rise in tuition over the past four years, said Chancellor William E. Kirwan at a Regents meeting last month.
In fiscal year 2003, institutions gave $14.8 million to needy students and $42.8 million to others regardless of their wealth, according to the report.
“We have to move to put much more of our money into need-based aid in the future,” said Regent Patricia Florestano.
The task force suggests balancing those figures by shifting funds to need-based programs or combining need and merit aid for students who qualify for both.
Changes can be paid for by reallocating money from tuition increases, asking for more private donations and seeking additional state aid, the report said.
But some regents don’t think it will be easy to get additional money.
“This is a great idea but we always end up in the same bind,” said Clifford Kendall, Board of Regents chairman. “There aren’t enough dollars to go around.”
Throughout the past decade, while enrollment increased and health and energy costs skyrocketed, federal and state aid decreased.
There are 7,000 students on a waiting list for the State’s Educational Assistance Grants, according to the report.
Federal Pell grant funds also decreased, forcing students to be more reliant on loans.
Last year, federal education loans accounted for 75 percent of all federal student aid, totaling $41 billion in student debt, according to the College Board.
Other draft recommendations intended to decrease debt burdens include, increasing aid to students who transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions and increasing Internet information to help students understand and apply for financial aid.