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Jan. 2005: Economy

Maryland's economic future needs more than "a bump"

By Jim Rosapepe

When the Maryland legislature votes next week on the governor's veto of the tuition cap bill, HB 1188, opponents of the bill no doubt will argue that it isn't needed because the governor has said he'll give higher education "a bump," rumored to be about $30 million, in the coming year's budget.

 If the governor stops cutting the universities' budgets, that certainly will be a step in the right direction. In just two years, he has cut it by more than $120 million -- forcing tuition hikes of 30%, bigger classes and layoffs of professors and staff.

The results have been awful -- world class engineering and biomedical researchers have been lured way by schools such as Purdue and Wake Forest, average SAT scores of incoming freshmen have dropped, and, for the first time in 7 years, UMCP’s ranking by the US News and World Report has dropped.

 I will applaud the governor if, finding Maryland's public universities in a deep hole, he stops digging.

 But, after $120 million in cuts and expecting 16,000 additional students by fall 2008, the university system needs a lot more money -- and a lot more certainty -- than a one year "bump." $30 million for one year is a long way from what our state needs to be competitive in today's knowledge economy. 

 Here's what the one year "bump" plan does NOT do:

 -- It does NOT restore the $120 million in cuts already made

 -- It does NOT control tuition (and I can assure you there are members of the Board of Regents --not including me -- who want to raise tuition more that 5% EVEN if the state fully funds our budget request)

 -- It does NOT provide stability of funding so necessary for efficient and effective management

 -- It does NOT establish the important principle that our public, four year universities are just as deserving of legislatively mandated funding as our public schools and community and private colleges (which have had it for years)

 -- It does NOT create a plan to solve the longer term problem of keeping our public universities world class and affordable

 -- It does NOT provide a designated source of funding (thus, the money will have to come out of other critical public services like K-12 education or health care for the elderly)

 In contrast, HB 1188, written under the leadership of Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch, provides ALL of these.

 It's a well-thought out, 3-year plan to restore recent cuts. It caps tuition increases for those three years at no more than 5%/year. It establishes the principle of formula funding for the USM and Morgan State University, similar to what the legislature provides our local public schools and community and private colleges. It sets up a study to figure out a long-term finance plan for quality, affordable higher education. And it pays for most of the costs with a modest, three-year surcharge on the corporate income tax rate (which would remain the second lowest in the region).

 Large, bi-partisan majorities in both houses passed HB 1188. They understood that, in the 21st Century, knowledge is economic power.

 "Access to a quality workforce is one the three most important factors that drive business location decisions," the Greater Washington Board of Trade recently reported.

 "The fact that Maryland ranks first nationwide in the percentage of adults with Bachelor's degrees and advanced degrees -- and first in the percentage of professional and technical workers -- underscores the relationship between our successful higher education system and Maryland's emergence as global leader in the New Economy."

 That's what recent cuts in the universities' budgets have put at risk.     

 Even our well-educated citizens now are losing jobs to places such as India and China because these nations are investing billions in expanding access to quality education at all levels. The only long-term defense of our standard of living is to meet the competition head on -- by making sure that Maryland students have affordable access to world-class higher education, too.

 Our public universities –- our people’s surest route to upward mobility and prosperity -- need more than a "bump." They need a serious, multi year commitment to decent funding and more reasonable tuition rates. That's why the legislature should thank him for the governor for his “bump” –- and then override his veto of HB 1188.

 Jim Rosapepe is a member of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland