Students in engineering and laboratory science programs may see increased tuition if the Board of Regents accepts a recent proposal by university officials.
Provost Ann Wylie has asked the Board of Regents — the 17-member governing body that oversees the University System of Maryland — to consider charging some science and engineering majors a premium to allow the university to accept more students in those fields. The board is currently engaged in discussions over the proposal, system Chancellor Brit Kirwan said.
“The proposal is very well done, and I think the concept has merit,” Kirwan said.
Wylie did not say how much students would be charged on top of tuition or specify which majors could be affected.
University President Wallace Loh said because the cost of educating students in the sciences and engineering is higher than for other degrees — such as the humanities — tuition should not increase across the board to bring in more students.
The proposal also stipulates that a portion of the extra revenue be set aside to support students who cannot afford the premium.
“This would not in any way compromise low-income students,” Kirwan said.
According to biochemistry and chemistry lecturer Irving Kipnis, the chemistry and biochemistry department’s laboratory spaces are already at 80 to 90 percent capacity.
Loh said rather than overfill classes, a premium on top of tuition could be used to open more laboratory sections and meet the growing demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, collectively known as STEM.
“We don’t want to dilute the soup, so we need more faculty, we need more lab space and we need more equipment, and that costs money,” he said. “And the provost’s position, which I endorse, is the fairest way.”
Many universities already use a similar system. According to last year’s survey of differential tuition by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, 39 percent of the 174 institutions surveyed charged students different tuitions based on their major or college.
Although the study does not present an average tuition premium, it included course fees, such as the University of Maine’s $75 engineering course fee, as well as major-specific tuition hikes, such as the University of Kentucky’s 10.7 percent charge for students in the nursing program.
This concept is not new. According to the study, nearly 50 of the institutions had been differentiating tuition since 1995.
Physics professor Edward Redish said he thinks the money needed to procure more faculty and lab space should not burden students.
“What you’re doing by that is discouraging students from going into science who might be able to do it,” he said.
Instead, Redish said, the state should consider raising taxes and increasing funding for higher education.
“We are giving up the principle that producing educated and capable students is something that is good for everybody, not just the individuals,” he said.
However, Loh said the proposal is fair, since students who will earn larger salaries after graduation can afford to spend more for their education.
“In a way, you can almost make a moral argument that if you’re going to make more not just your first job, but your whole career, shouldn’t you be paying a little bit more for your education as opposed to having students in other fields subsidizing your education?” he said.
Several students, such as freshman elementary education major Jenna Michel, agreed that added costs should not apply to students across the board.
“For my classes, we have to pay extra for supplies and studio space, so it’s the same idea,” she said.
Others, such as sophomore electrical engineering major Fugong Wu, said many students already feel strapped for cash .
A tuition premium, Wu said, could have negative consequences for the school.
“If they keep increasing the costs,” he said, “that might drive some talent away.”