ANNAPOLIS – A bill in the Maryland legislature would require public colleges and universities to publish four years’ worth of tuition rates in advance.
Under the Maryland Truth in Tuition Act rates could still be subject to change over time but once published, rates could not be increased.
At a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday, supporters said the bill would create predictable tuition expenses, which they say would help middle-class families budget and save to allow their children to go to college.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, introduced the same legislation last year but it failed in committee despite more than 30 co-sponsors.
This year, she had more time to talk to other legislators and generate interest, she said, the lack of which hurt last year’s effort.
Mizeur said the plan has generated positive feedback from prominent state university officials.
The law could prove effective, said Patrick Hogan, associate vice chancellor for government relations for the University System of Maryland. It would be similar to a long-term version of the state’s recent freeze in tuition rates, but more flexible because it would allow institutions to raise or lower tuition over time, he said.
One downside of publishing tuition levels early is that institutions may raise tuition more on the front end to ensure they don’t find themselves short of money in a few years. Schools are always concerned about the unpredictability of funding from the state, Hogan said.
But any initial increase would be made up over time because rates would not be going up as often, said Andrew Friedson, student body president of the University of Maryland, College Park. The new system could raise rates at first, he said, but that would be manageable over time.
In the end, the predictability the bill provides would help to prevent the sting of tuition increases that have been known to force students to move home, transfer to other institutions or drop out of college entirely, Friedson said.
But institutions like Central Michigan University, which ended its tuition guarantee policy in February, have found that is not the case, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Universities often have trouble predicting what their tuition levels will need to be several years ahead of time.
“The concept of a tuition guarantee may be well intentioned,” said Hurley, “but it may ultimately lead to higher prices in the long run because of the uncertainty and unpredictability that goes into tuition setting, which has proven remarkably volatile.”
A stable tuition depends on stable state funding, and that can’t always be guaranteed, Hurley said.
If passed the bill would require the plans be submitted by summer of 2009. The bill now returns to the House of Delegates where the committee report will be read and, if favorable, the bill will be printed for a third reading.