If this university still needed a reminder of the sea change in Annapolis that’s taken place over the past two years, it got one — no, two — in a big way yesterday.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents voted to raise tuition systemwide by up to 5 percent, a jarring shift from the reliable 3 percent increases system institutions had seen since 2011, which followed a four-year tuition freeze.
The board also ruled in favor of a differential tuition phase-in for students enrolled in engineering, business and computer science majors at this university, to take place over the next four years and eventually raise tuition for students in these majors by a projected 15 percent.
Both moves, though thrust upon students in uncomfortably sudden fashion, haven’t really arrived without warning.
State officials had debated the merits of the tuition freeze and 3 percent cap for years, and the 2 percent midyear tuition hike announced in January prefigured the accelerated tuition growth students will see next year.
Considering the rollback of state funding the system faced this year — $40.3 million in cuts, of which this university picked up $15.6 million — and the financial wrangling to close an estimated $750 million deficit that figured into Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget for the next fiscal year, it’s hardly surprising that the system is scrambling to secure more revenue.
The differentiated tuition model, which the university announced just two days before the Board of Regents vote, mirrors similar programs at the rest of the Big Ten’s state flagship schools. Next year, juniors and seniors enrolled in the engineering, business and computer science fields will pay an additional $700 in tuition, while next year’s freshmen enrolled in these majors will eventually pay an additional $5,600.
To the class of 2015: It looks as though you picked the right year to graduate. To the incoming class of 2019: Welcome to this university’s new bottom line.
Before students bemoan Hogan’s buck-stops-here attitude, though, it’s worth noting that former Gov. Martin O’Malley (who championed the tuition freeze and subsequent yearly cap), not Hogan, unveiled the university system cuts this academic year.
Between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 academic years, this state’s tuition and fee increases for in-state students at public four-year universities ranked the second-lowest in the nation, the College Board reported. During that time, state lawmakers touted their commitment to keeping higher education affordable, and rightly so — while other states did little to combat the skyrocketing cost of a college degree, this state laser-focused its efforts on increasing education spending year after year.
All the same, though, the cuts O’Malley instituted in the waning days of his administration indicate that model was unsustainable. The former governor might have made a late-game stride toward curtailing spending creep, but after the state kicked the can down the road for two terms, it proved too little, too late.
The message the state has sent to students isn’t unreasonable, but there’s no mistaking its tone: Want to maintain and grow the top-ranked programs you’ve enrolled in? Great, but you’ll need more skin in the game.
For students studying engineering, business or computer science, that demanded buy-in is even greater, though not without cause. Students in these fields simply cost more to educate, what with the six-figure salaries required to attract top-flight professors for these majors and the boosted cost of labs and equipment.
Though all students currently pay the same flat tuition rate, it’s understandable that the university would ask these majors to incur the increased costs, especially because the added revenue would funnel exclusively back into their programs.
What isn’t understandable — and where students should demand an administrative response — is why the university would wait until Monday, two days before the Board of Regents vote, to announce the differential tuition proposal to students. What’s more, the announcement came three days after the deadline for incoming freshmen to enroll.
While those enrolled at this university should strap in for a rough financial ride in coming years, officials owe it to students to let them know what’s in store, especially when it comes to tuition and fees. This time, administrators failed in spectacular fashion.