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February 11, 2004

A Note on The Quality and Cost of Education at UMBC

Important questions about the quality and cost of public higher education are being raised nationally and in Maryland in light of the current economy: How good should our public colleges and universities aspire to be? Are these institutions well managed? How should the cost of higher education be shared between state governments and students?

During most of the past 10 years, the State of Maryland has strongly supported UMBC, helping us become a national leader in linking the excitement of research with excellent education across the liberal arts and sciences. In recent years, Newsweek has called UMBC a "powerhouse in Baltimore, offering a topnotch, rigorous education to scholars who don't want to pay for an Ivy," and one of the nation's "Hot Schools." It is clear that students and their families also recognize this quality. Large numbers of top students want to be on our campus. As a result, UMBC's student body has never been larger, better prepared, or more diverse.

As a result of State budget cuts, a 20-percent tuition increase was necessary this year to maintain the quality of education and services our students deserve. Some have asked why a university education is so expensive. The fact is that providing a first-rate education at a research university is both people-intensive and technology-intensive. Our students don't want to be numbers. They want individual attention from faculty, access to advising and mentoring, and opportunities for hands-on experience in up-to-date laboratories, studios, and performance spaces. This is why students come to UMBC, and we are committed to meeting their needs.

Our challenge is to continue to meet our commitments to students during these difficult times while keeping tuition affordable. In recent years, our State support has been cut by $15 million while our enrollment, the number of students living on campus, and research activity have continued to grow. Unlike companies that make cutbacks during a business downturn, we have faced budget reductions at a time when demand for our services has never been stronger. We have cut millions of dollars in administrative personnel and operating expenses, while continuing to invest wisely in instruction and services that support students' academic progress and our growing enrollment, including hiring faculty, building and renovating classroom and laboratory space, expanding computer access, and maintaining library hours.

While we continue to be conservative in administrative spending, we must also invest in areas important to our students' progress. In the coming academic year, we will face increased costs associated with recent enrollment growth, including new faculty positions, growth in academic and student support services, and additional library materials, as well as growing costs for student financial aid, faculty and staff salaries, health insurance and utilities, and debt service on bonds funding new and renovated classroom and laboratory space.

Because State funding is expected to remain flat for the coming year, the Board of Regents approved, and the Governor accepted, an additional tuition increase of 10 percent for undergraduates and 6.5 percent for graduate students beginning in the fall 2004 semester to maintain the quality of services provided at UMBC and other public universities. In the past, the State would support at least half of these necessary budget increases, and the rest would be supported by modest tuition increases. To assist students and families with the challenge of rising tuition, UMBC's financial aid web site (www.umbc.edu/financialaid/faq.html) provides information on financial aid and loan programs. Now is the time to apply for aid for the 2004-2005 school year by visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the February 14 deadline.

What makes the UMBC experience particularly special is that students from all backgrounds have access to a first-rate education. The message from our students and their families is clear: "good enough" is not good enough for public higher education in Maryland. Our students appreciate the excellent education available to them, and they want it to remain affordable. Employers and outstanding graduate and professional schools respect and value degrees from UMBC more than ever. We cannot afford to go backward.

It is encouraging that the Governor's budget provides level funding to the University System of Maryland and an additional $15.9 million in need-based financial aid for higher education statewide at a time when many other agencies continue to face budget reductions. The State's future role in supporting higher education is a key issue under discussion in the current Legislative session. Universities, public officials, and citizens must do even more to ensure predictable funding, access to quality public education, and sound return on higher education investments. It is important that our students and their families participate in this dialogue. Please let our leaders know that the State's support is vital to our ability to continue providing excellent opportunities for students at UMBC. If you would like to receive periodic updates about these issues, please e-mail voicesforumbc@umbc.edu and provide your e-mail address.

Thank you for choosing UMBC and for your continued support.

Freeman A. Hrabowski, III
President

Posted by dwinds1 at February 11, 2004 12:00 AM