ANNAPOLIS – Top University System of Maryland officials on Wednesday resisted the urgings of legislators for a tuition freeze at its eleven member institutions, offering instead a double-digit percent increase in financial aid.
The recommendations at the House Education and Economic Development Subcommittee came two weeks after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. unveiled his FY2007 budget proposal, which includes a $172 million increase in higher education funding, of which $101.3 million is intended for the university system.
“You’ve got $100 million this year and you still want to increase tuition,” said committee vice chairman Delegate Frank S. Turner, D – Howard. “Just how much more do we need to give?”
System Chancellor William E. Kirwan said that an increase in tuition and fees of 4.8 percent for the academic year beginning in the fall will be necessary to fully fund the system’s proposed budget.
Delegates argued that Maryland students “need a break” after average statewide tuition rose by 33.8 percent from 2002 to 2005.
“It has put our students in a terrible situation,” Turner said of the rising price of higher education. “Getting out in four years is almost incredible these days. Families can’t keep up with this.”
To help counter the financial impact on students of the proposed tuition increase, Kirwan and the board of regents said they planned an increase of 10 percent to 12 percent in financial aid money available to students in the state.
The recommended tuition increase would net the state’s universities a total of $18.9 million. That money, Kirwan said, would be put towards new programs like increasing statewide enrollment by 3,400 students and making improvements to the University of Maryland, College Park and the system’s historically black universities.
Tuition increases would also add class sections, teachers and advisors, which would in turn help more students graduate in four years and would be “more than offset” by the proposed financial aid plan, said university system Regent David Nevins.
Opponents of the increase argued that it will create an even higher demand for financial aid.
“More students today need financial aid than ever before because of the high tuition,” said committee chairman Delegate James E. Proctor Jr., D – Southern Maryland.
Kirwan countered that the state’s tuition increases have been comparable to the national average and were not opposed by the students.
In 2006, average tuition rose 7 percent nationally and only 5.8 percent in Maryland.
“The students recognize that the tuition increases are reasonable,” he said. “We believe that we have held our tuition levels very modest.” Eliminating the increase would require state schools to “admit fewer qualified students, or refrain from making investments in institutional quality for the fifth year in a row,” Kirwan said.