By MAREN WRIGHT
TOWSON (April 24, 2009) - The University System of Maryland Board of Regents voted in a special session Thursday to continue a tuition freeze for undergraduate in-state students.
The vote came after Maryland's General Assembly approved a university system budget just $5.8 million shy of Gov. Martin O'Malley's request, a figure that was "close enough" for Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan.
"In Maryland, looking at the national context, we have to feel awfully good about the governor and the General Assembly and the support being given," Kirwan said.
It's the fourth year that Maryland universities spurned tuition increases. Kirwan just returned from a conference where he learned that most other states are raising tuition, as much as 25 percent in Georgia and 15 percent in Washington over the next two years.
Students in Maryland will fare better.
Senior Phylicia Sampson, of Baltimore, transferred from College Park to Towson to reduce costs, but was still unsure if her part-time job and financial aid would be enough to pay for her last year of college. She was waiting outside the Regents meeting to hear the news.
"I'm excited," Sampson said. "That means I can stay and finish."
The freeze is only effective for undergraduate resident tuition. The average increase for out-of-state students of 7 percent and 6 percent for graduate students is still considered quite small, the board said.
"The other tuition increases are very moderate," Kirwan said. "That's a reflection of the level of state support, that there isn't a need to raise tuition more."
Overall, the university system expects tuition revenue to rise by 3.1 percent. The tuition increases vary by institution, from no increase at Frostburg University to as much as a 9 percent increase for some graduate programs at College Park. The increasing cost of graduate programs is less of a concern for some members of the board.
"Just as important as affordability is quality, especially in professional programs," said Student Regent Joshua L. Michael.
USM Student Council Chairman William Logan said tuition freezes aren't enough to adequately fund higher education in Maryland.
"We want to really reinforce the quality of the education programs," Logan said.
But Kirwan said he doesn't feel quality is being short-changed.
"We're not compromising quality—in fact the ranking of our institutions is on the rise," Kirwan said.
With three Maryland universities making Princeton Review's top 50 list for best values in public higher education, O'Malley said he feels confident the regents are taking the right steps.
"We've gone from being one of the most expensive in the country down to moderate (cost) in just 4 years time," O"Malley told students as he touted Maryland's drop from 4th to 16th among the most expensive public universities.
"To govern is to choose, and in our state we chose to make higher education ... a top priority," O'Malley said.
Regent David Nevins said he is pleased with the board's vote, but that more needs to be accomplished in making college accessible for students.
"This is the best we could hope to do this year but in going forward we need to consider ways to fund enrollment growth for the system," Nevins said. "Our institutions are getting very hard to get into."
Liam Davis, 19 and a Towson student from Baltimore, agreed.
"One of the things I've learned from working my part-time job is that a college degree is really a necessity for raising a family," Davis said. "We need to keep it attainable.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.