Steep declines in public funding for higher education over the past five years have forced most state universities across the country to jack up tuition and fees.
Not in Maryland.
The posted price of attending the University of Maryland and other state universities has risen 2 percent for in-state students since 2007 after adjusting for inflation — the lowest rate of increase in the nation for four-year public institutions, the College Board said in a recent report.
In Virginia, in-state tuition and fees at public universities during the same period rose 29 percent. The national average was 27 percent, with the highest rates of increase in California (72 percent) and Arizona (78 percent).
Facing a fiscal crisis after a recession that began in late 2007, many states slashed funding for higher education to preserve money for public safety, health, elementary and secondary education, and other services. The thinking was that public colleges could tap other revenue sources — chiefly, tuition — to fill the void.
Now, as public universities have grown more expensive, their leaders are intensifying efforts to contain what they spend and what they charge. At stake, they say, is the very mission of institutions that aim to offer high-quality academics to all classes of society.
“The opportunity of higher education could soon be out of reach of many people if we’re not careful in how we manage this,” said E. Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In-state tuition and fees rose at least 10 percent this year at his school and several others in Louisiana. Fees are mandatory charges for various campus services and activities but don’t include housing, food and books. The price, about $5,400 a year at UL Lafayette, is still relatively inexpensive. But Savoie said he worries that public universities are “moving toward a private-school model.”
How was Maryland able to buck the trend? State university leaders say that for most of the decade, they have sought to bolster productivity and rein in costs, an efficiency campaign that paid dividends in Annapolis. The state government provided enough funding to freeze in-state tuition for four years, starting in 2006, and limit the increases in ensuing years.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) championed the freeze. But William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the efficiency drive also earned the schools credibility with O’Malley’s Republican predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. At one point several years ago, Kirwan said, faculty were asked to increase the average time spent with students by 10 percent.
“That got people’s attention,” Kirwan said. “At the time, Bob Ehrlich was the governor. He was mightily impressed.” Ehrlich and the Democratic-led legislature agreed on a tuition freeze in early 2006.
“Maryland is very fortunate,” said Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “Our elected officials get it.”
Today, annual tuition and fees for in-state students at the U-Md. flagship in College Park total $8,908.
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