WASHINGTON – Universities will make the necessary sacrifices to cut costs, they said Thursday, to deal with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recommended freeze on in-state tuition rates in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget.
“The cost to deliver the quality education, programs and services continues to rise. It does increase the struggle for universities like ours,” said Morgan State University spokesman Clinton R. Coleman.
The O’Malley budget gives the University System of Maryland an increase of $21.1 million, though this may not be enough to offset expected cost increases.
“Demands on colleges go up when the private economy is soft,” said Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, who explained that a decrease in jobs causes more people to pursue education.
This added strain on the university system is being taken in-stride, the university spokesmen said.
“We think it’s worth it,” Coleman said. “From our perspective there is no question that the cost of education is a concern, especially when it comes to our student body, to minorities and low-income students.”
Bowie State University President Mickey L. Burnim said his personnel are going “a little beyond” what is asked of them in trying to cut costs, with many taking six more furlough days than those required by the state.
“Everyone on the campus is making some sacrifices. Even the lowest paid employees are taking a half-day furlough and there has been no grumbling. People are willing to do their part,” Burnim said.
Joni Finney, vice-president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said she hopes the proposed tuition freeze will force a conversation on college campuses about not just cost-cutting, but strategic decisions to maximize education.
“Can we look at the number of credit hours students must take to earn a degree? Can we, for students who come to the university really well prepared, can we offer them a degree in three years? I hope the universities use this to make strategic investments with state dollars,” Finney said.
Finney is encouraged that the governor is going against the grain of recession trends, reducing tuition costs rather than passing them on to students. A 2008 “Measuring Up” report by Finney’s policy center had given Maryland an “F” in college affordability.
O’Malley expects this proposed fourth straight year of tuition freezes to further drop Maryland’s tuition rate ranking to 18th among public universities in the nation. It is now 16th.
Maryland isn’t alone in the struggle to keep college tuition affordable. Since 1982, tuition and fees have increased 439 percent nationally, while the Consumer Price Index has increased just 106 percent in that same period, according to the 2008 “Measuring Up” report.
State Sen. James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, is one lawmaker that sees O’Malley’s proposal as an investment in the future of Maryland and an economic necessity.
“What the governor has done with the budget has said that our long-term interests in economic growth should not be put at risk by dealing with the short-term economic crisis. He’s investing in higher education and he’s doing the right things,” said Rosapepe, a former member of the USM Board of Regents.
While college costs have been increasing, fewer young adults are investing in education.
A commission led by University of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan reported in 2008 that college completion rates among 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States have dropped from second internationally to 11th.
“The effect of diminished access to postsecondary education has a devastating effect on the lives of individuals seeking advancement and on our collective hopes for advancing our society’s interests and welfare,” Kirwan said in the report.
Kirwan was unavailable for comment Thursday.
“The broader impact on the economy (is that) education is one of the best predictors of income and productivity,” said Neil Bergsman.
“I think it is a real tribute to our governor, to show his accurate prioritizing of higher education,” said Jonathan Sachs, president of the Student Government Association for University of Maryland, College Park.
“I believe it is crucial,” Sachs said, “to help students get through college.”