WASHINGTON – Maryland colleges and universities would get $1.1 billion in state funding under a proposal approved unanimously Wednesday by the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland.
The funding for the 2009 fiscal year represents an increase of $94.7 million from 2008, with the biggest part of the increase, $54 million, going toward health care and retirement benefits for future retirees.
Another $4.8 million will go to several schools — the University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore; Towson University; Salisbury University, and University of Maryland University College — to account for changes in enrollment.
“If you don’t fund enrollment growth, the quality of education suffers,” said Clifford M. Kendall, board chairman.
The board’s finance committee approved the request last Friday, and it will be sent to the Maryland Department of Budget and Management Friday for final approval.
“This is in a way a preliminary step in the budget,” said William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the university system, adding that budgetary decisions are ongoing and tweaks may still occur.
The $1.1 billion in state money makes up just a slice of the system’s entire $4.1 billion operating budget, which also includes tuition, fees, endowment income and contracts and grants.
The entire proposed budget is $128 million greater than the previous year, a 3.3 percent increase.
The board also gave Kirwan authority to change the request if actual spending and revenue figures come in differently than those proposed — a possibility, the board said, with fiscal uncertainties for 2009.
Changes in tax rates and possible revenue from a state slot machine proposal could affect the 2009 budget, said Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Joseph F. Vivona.
There is a pair of alternative plans in place that Kirwan could enact if budget cuts or additions are necessary.
In case of cuts, systemwide changes in tuition and merit pay for university system employees are the likely result, which Vivona called “powerful fixes.”
If extra money is available, the board said it would likely put it toward easing tuition burdens on students.
Wednesday’s approval does not change tuition, but if Kirwan is pressed into one of the alternatives, what students pay could be affected.
UMCP accounts for the biggest slice of the budget request, at $430 million — up 8.4 percent from the previous year.
The board also unanimously approved an extra $5.6 million for the construction of a new campus center at UMB bringing the project’s total to $56 million.
The project is underway now, said university spokesman Ed Fishel, and will likely end early in 2009.