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Apr. 2004, Gazette: Tuition Cap

Ehrlich should sign tuition cap law

by Jim Rosapepe

April 30, 2004
Will Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. kill the goose that lays the golden eggs in Maryland?

That's the question he faces as he decides whether to sign or veto House Bill 1188, the Higher Education Affordability and Access Act passed 
overwhelmingly by both houses of the General Assembly this year.

Our state is one of the richest in America. But we're not rich because we have oil wells or gold mines. We're wealthy because we have one of the
best-educated populations in the country.

In the knowledge economy of the 21st century, education is wealth and ignorance is poverty.

Gov. Ehrlich's economic development secretary, Aris Melissaratos, said it well: "The priority has to go to education. That is where the
intellectual property gets generated, that is where the work force gets trained and becomes available. I think that we have got a phenomenal
university system."

Gov. Ehrlich correctly has kept his election year commitment to the Thornton law, assuring that every child in our state -- from poorest
neighborhoods of Baltimore and rural Somerset County to the rolling hills of Potomac and Harford -- gets the resources he or she needs to
learn to read and write and calculate.

But, in this century, most Marylanders need a college education, not just a high school diploma. And, over the past two years, the
state's investment in higher education has been cut more deeply than any other part of the state budget. Last year, Maryland cut state support for
higher education three times more deeply than the average state.

The results have been predictable. Tuition hikes have been massive, 50 percent higher than the average elsewhere in the country. And thousands
of students have been forced to drop out -- 900 at Baltimore's Coppin State alone -- and thousands of others have not had the financial
ability to enroll.

Morgan State, the historically African American university in Baltimore, estimates that more than 400 students qualified for admission last fall
but could not afford to register. The University System of Maryland, with students at 11 campuses, projects that more than 3,000 qualified students
will be denied entrance this fall because of tuition hikes.

If Gov. Ehrlich vetoes HB 1188, tuition at the University of Maryland at College Park will jump by almost 11 percent this fall. Similar hikes
will hit students across the state. These double-digit tuition increases are on top of increases of almost 20 percent last year.

And remember, Maryland was already a high tuition state, sixth highest in the country.

The truth is that tuition at Maryland's public colleges is out of control. As a university regent, I've voted against tuition hikes, but
state budget cuts have targeted higher education and forced tuition increases. Overall state spending has risen -- more than 4 percent in the 
coming year -- but public investment in college education for Maryland's young people has been slashed.

The good news is that, this year, the legislature, led by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller,
passed a bill, HB 1188, to cap tuition hikes at 5 percent for the next three years and restore state investment in our children.

Most of the funding comes from a modest, temporary surcharge on corporate profits.

As the late chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (and a mathematics graduate of Morgan and University of Maryland College Park) Pete
Rawlings would have said: It is socially progressive and fiscally responsible.

HB 1188 cuts planned tuition hikes in half and requires the governor to fund higher education -- just as current law requires him to fund public
schools, community colleges, and even private colleges.

I know that Gov. Ehrlich understands the importance of access to quality higher education for hard working young people. He and I served
together in the House of Delegates. I've heard him eloquently describe the importance of educational opportunity in his own life.

By signing HB 1188, he can help assure that same opportunity to the next generation of Marylanders.

Jim Rosapepe is a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, a co-founder of Marylanders for Access to Quality Higher
Education (www.accesstoquality.org), and a former state delegate from College Park.