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February 4, 2004

Flat State Funds for Public Universities Spark Focus on Quality and Cost

As the Maryland legislative session begins, public universities face a year of flat State funding, raising important questions about the quality and cost of public higher education.

"During much of the past 10 years, the State of Maryland has invested new resources in UMBC, supporting campus growth in enrollment, student body quality, research grants and facilities," says Mark Behm, vice president for administration and finance. "However, since the economy faltered in 2002, our State support was cut by $15 million."

As a result of these cuts, a 20-percent tuition increase was necessary for the current academic year to maintain the level of service to students, says Behm. Companies usually make cutbacks during a business downturn, he explains, noting that UMBC has managed major budget reductions at a time when demand for services has never been stronger. Behm says that campus leaders cut millions of dollars in administrative personnel and operating expenses, while continuing to make strategic investments to support students' academic progress, growing enrollment, and the infrastructure for research, including hiring faculty, building and renovating classroom and laboratory space, expanding computer access and maintaining library hours.

The Fiscal Year 2005 budget submitted by the Governor includes $65-million in State general funds for UMBC, the same amount as in the current fiscal year. The budget includes a 2.5-percent merit pay fund for University System of Maryland faculty and staff and a 1.6-percent cost of living adjustment for all State employees, which must be approved by the Legislature.

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 beginning in the fall 2004 semester. This will support 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, utilities and debt service on construction bonds.

In the past, notes Behm, the State would support at least half of these necessary budget increases and the rest would be supported by more modest tuition increases.

"Our challenge is to continue to meet our commitments to students, faculty and staff during these difficult times while keeping tuition affordable," says Provost Arthur Johnson. "This means we must continue to be conservative in our spending, while continuing to carefully invest in faculty hiring, advising, academic facilities and technology."

The future role of the State in supporting higher education will be a key policy issue in the Legislative Session. Some bills will seek to establish more predictable funding for higher education, some will propose tuition caps and some will link additional funding for higher education with tuition caps, says Joan Kennedy Cody, director of government and community relations.

"It is clear that our students and their families appreciate the first-rate education available at UMBC and that they want it to remain affordable," notes Cody. "It is important that our voices are heard on these issues." Cody encourages the UMBC community to attend the University's annual Legislative Reception in Annapolis February 18 to communicate the importance of preserving both quality and access at UMBC. For more information and to register online, go to www.umbc.edu/alum/annapolis.

Posted by dwinds1 at February 4, 2004 12:00 AM