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Jun. 2004, Diamondback: Tuition Hike

Drive the override

by Jim Rosapepe
June 10, 2004

The Diamondback

For how many more Septembers will you be faced with double-digit tuition hikes? Will your tuition double before you graduate from the university?

State legislators will answer these questions later this year, or early next, when they vote on overriding the governor's veto of the tuition cap bill, HB1188.

Do you care?

That's the question YOU will answer - if you let your legislators know what you think about big tuition hikes.

Tuition is out of control at this university and at public colleges and universities across the state. Juniors and seniors know that best. Since Fall 2002, tuition at the College Park campus has jumped more than 30 percent.

And we already had the sixth highest public university tuition in the United States.

These huge tuition hikes - 50 percent bigger than most colleges in the United States - are the result of equally big cuts in state investment in higher education. Since 2002, state support has been cut $128 million. That's more than TWICE as much as other state agencies.

What makes the tuition-boosting budget cuts most outrageous is, at the same time, overall state spending has INCREASED. Students weren't asked to carry their share of the pain of across-the-board cuts. You were forced to pay for increased government spending on other priorities.

With strong support from students, HB1188 was passed by the state legislature to fix these inequities and to protect the quality of education you're paying for. Its key features:

• Cap tuition increases for three years at no more than 5 percent a year.
• Restore much of last year's budget cuts.
• Protect access by guaranteeing state funding increases of 5 percent in each of the next three years.
• Require the university to increase its efficiency.

The funding would come primarily from a modest, temporary surcharge on the corporate income tax. Even with the surcharge, Maryland's tax rate would be LOWER than all but one of our surrounding states.
Marylanders for Access to Quality Higher Education, the grassroots citizens' advocacy group, led the successful fight for the bill. Overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature passed the bill. Students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff, as well as regents, supported it.

But then, last month, the governor vetoed the bill.

The result? You will pay $356 more this fall than if he had signed it.

But there is a solution. When the legislature comes back, either in a special session this year or regular session in January, it can override the veto - and cap tuition increases at 5 percent.

The Senate passed HB1188 with 30 votes, one more than needed to override the veto. The House passed it by 80 votes, only five short of the number needed to override.

The vast majority of the bill's supporters will vote to override the veto. They need to be encouraged to do so - and five state delegates need to be convinced to join them.

What will convince them?

One thing: hearing from their constituents.

That's you - and your parents and neighbors and friends. And faculty, staff and alumni.

It's easy to do. You can call or e-mail. Write them a letter or ask them to meet with you. To find out who your legislators are, just go to www.accesstoquality.org. There you'll also find more information on HB1188 and how you can help.

Of course, if your legislators don't hear from you, they'll assume you don't care about more big tuition hikes. And they'll be right.

In my three years on the Board of Regents, I've worked with students, legislators and many others against excessive tuition increases. That's how we got HB1188 passed. We're going to continue the fight until we solve the problem.

But will you join our fight?

Jim Rosapepe is a member of the Board of Regents and a co-founder of Marylanders for Access to Quality Higher Education. He can be reached at jcrosapepe@yahoo.com.