BALTIMORE – The University of Maryland System Board of Regents Friday approved a report designed to make higher education more affordable — but it will delay action on it until Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich determines how much state money the system will receive.
“The governor has not yet completed the budget restructuring process,” said Chancellor William E. Kirwan. “He should complete preparation of the budget in the next two weeks.”
The financial aid task force’s report was the second approved this year to help Maryland students and universities cut costs. Regents released their “Effective and Efficiency” report in October, which introduced measures the university system can take to save $26.6 million by the end of fiscal year 2006.
But no action can be taken until Ehrlich tells the board how much money Maryland’s universities are going to get, they said.
“The governor’s plan is intended, in large part, to free up funds for his highest priority — and higher education is a priority,” said Kirwan.
The chancellor referred to a College Park campus radio interview last week, where Ehrlich said the system will probably receive a “bump” in funding this year.
Both reports were drafted in response to “the stunning and disturbing drop in funding levels in the past three years,” and the corresponding 30 percent tuition hike, said the chancellor.
For example, Maryland’s institutions would be instructed to hold poorer students “harmless” by 2010, decreasing their loan debt and giving need-based aid priority over merit-based aid, according to the task force’s report.
More spending on financial aid would come from cost-cutting initiatives such as centralized and streamlined operations, encouraging students to graduate promptly and increased teacher workload, according to the efficiency report.
The university system currently awards $80 million in financial aid each year and only half goes to need-based aid, said Kirwan.
“That is a very low percentage when compared with the rest of the country,” he said.
But some fear focusing on meeting the financial needs of their students may lead to neglecting institutional resources.
“There hasn’t been enough concern about collapsing our programs,” said Dan Mote, University of Maryland, College Park’s president. Competition from privately endowed universities with more money is making it harder for research universities such as College Park, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and University of Baltimore to retain their best faculty, he said.
“We feel very stretched here,” said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, University of Maryland, Baltimore County president. “We are competing against rich private institutions where endowments are going up.”
Certain students also expressed fears about retaining quality teachers.
“Research brings in so much money and with increased workload, professors may not have time to do their research,” said Rachel McMillan, a senior at Baltimore County who spent time with a group of students analyzing the efficiency report.
The effect these issues will have depends on Ehrlich.
Although the efficiency report intends for universities to take their own steps to decrease spending, it is still urgent that the governor makes higher education a priority.
“The report should not be reason for the state not to come up with adequate resources,” said Regent James Rosapepe. “We need state support.”