By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson
There are two common misinterpretations some people have about the role of members of the General Assembly during the year. Some believe we meet to legislate all year and others believe that after we leave Annapolis during the normal General Assembly Session we dont return to Annapolis until the next Session.
In fact, virtually every legislator has many duties they are assigned to during the interim between regular General Assembly Sessions in the capital city.
For instance, this year, there are nine scheduled meetings of the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education. This group, of which I am a member along with members of the Senate, House, college presidents, chancellors and other leaders of the higher education community, has been tasked with finding ways to implement better ways to improve higher education in Maryland.
This is not to say that we do not have great community, four-year and graduate colleges and universities in this State because we do, but even great institutions can do better. That is why this committee was established by legislation. Our students attending Marylands colleges and universities deserve this.
We are very fortunate in our area to have the College of Southern Maryland, St. Marys College of Maryland and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center. The College of Southern Maryland consistently ranks among the best community colleges in the state and the nation and has campuses in La Plata, Leonardtown, Prince Frederick and Waldorf. St. Marys College of Maryland annually is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. The Southern Maryland Higher Education Center draws plaudits throughout the state for the great work it does to make access to higher education closer to home.
Among the issues the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education will be discussing are operating and capital funding, enrollment trends, financial aid, community colleges, regional higher education centers, historically African-American institutions and how we compare or contrast with other states.
The final report of this Commission is due to Governor OMalley in December of this year so while we have much work to do, I expect a very comprehensive and informative final draft.
In addition to this Commission, The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee of which I am Vice Chair, is also holding interim meetings.
Among one of our meetings is discussion of several bills that were introduced during the 2007 General Assembly Session, but were referred to summer (or interim) study.
I hear a lot of complaints from students and parents about the high cost of college textbooks. Several bills were introduced this year to address this issue and they will be discussed at the EHEA June 12 interim meeting.
One bill (Chapter 295) Higher Education Study of the Cost of Textbooks for Higher Education—passed unanimously in the General Assembly and was signed by the governor. This legislation requires the Department of Legislative Services to examine retail prices of textbooks for higher education students in the state and study factors that impact retail prices of textbooks among other things.
The General Accounting Office estimates that the cost of textbooks and school supplies as a percentage of tuition and fees ranges from 72 percent at two-year public institutions, 26 percent at four-year public institutions and eight percent at four-year private institutions.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission estimates that college students in Maryland spent an average of $905 on textbooks in the 2005-2006 school year. This cost is too high and it is my hope that Chapter 295 will lead to alleviating these costs.
There will also be other legislative interim meetings which I will brief you about in future columns.