In-state tuition across the University System of Maryland may increase up to 2 percent next fiscal year.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's budget proposal for fiscal 2019 would support a 2 percent limit on in-state tuition hikes, system Chancellor Robert Caret said during testimony to the General Assembly.
"We're very appreciative that the proposal has enough funding in it so that when all is said and done, the likelihood is that there would be enough money for the tuition levels for next year, if there has to be a tuition increase, compared to national averages, it would be a relatively small one," system spokesman Mike Lurie said.
The system's Board of Regents will meet to decide on tuition later this year, likely in April or May, depending on when the General Assembly approves the budget, Lurie said.
Eric Shirk, spokesman for Maryland's Budget and Management Department, said keeping tuition low within the system's 12 institutions is of great importance to the state.
"Working to keep higher education affordable for Maryland students is one of Governor Hogan's top priorities," Shirk wrote in an email. "If not for the level of support in the administration's budget, tuition would grow at a higher rate, making access to higher education much more difficult."
Based on past budgets, it is likely the 2 percent increase will take effect, Lurie said. The increase would happen at all system campuses, Lurie said, and it is in line with the U.S. inflation rate, which was 1.8 percent as of January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
University President Wallace Loh said setting tuition rates can be a balancing act.
"When you have one of the wealthiest states in the country that has one of the lowest tuitions in the country … what's basically happening is you're subsidizing upper-middle-class students," Loh said. "But the problem is if the tuition is too low, there's not enough money to provide support for working-class students."
Currently, this university's in-state tuition for full-time undergraduate students is about $10,400. With a 2 percent bump, it'd increase about $200.
Since a freeze on tuition hikes was lifted in 2010, system tuition has been steadily rising by a similar amount.
Andre Pimenta, a senior computer science and finance major at this university, said the tuition increase seems reasonable, given the inflation rate.
But Jessica Tsai, a sophomore computer science major, said she feels it is unwarranted.
"I personally am just not a fan of increased tuition in general," she said. "I would like to know what the extra money is being used for."
The governor's budget proposal would also continue funding the MPowering the State initiative, the partnership between this university and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The proposal allots $6 million of about $1.4 billion in system funding to MPower. This spending is legislatively mandated, Shirk said.
"I can't imagine something of more transformative impact over the long haul than two universities coming together and working in complementary ways that they have not done so for the past 50 years," Loh said.
At the Blended Reality Center, one of the partnership's programs that focuses on virtual and augmented reality, researchers are investigating ways to utilize the technology to train medical professionals and police officers. Amitabh Varshney, who established the center and directs its activities on this campus, said the state's support provides a solid foundation for the initiative.
"We are looking at the funding from the state as the seed funding to help us build these bridges with the University of Maryland in Baltimore and to get started on these one of a kind projects," said Varshney, who will become dean for the computer, mathematical and natural sciences college on Thursday. "The plan is to then take this and then pursue other funding sources which are longer lasting. So in some ways the funding that we are getting is really very critical."
State funds have also supported efforts to establish a specialization in health informatics within this university's Bachelor of Science in Information Science program, Lindsay Sarin, the academic programs director at this university's information studies college, wrote in an email. The goal is to unveil courses in the specialization for fall 2019, she wrote.
"This program truly is empowering the state to continue to grow its economy and educate students in much needed areas such as health informatics," she wrote.
Hogan's proposal would fully fund operating expenses for new buildings in the system, including the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation, Caret said in his General Assembly testimony.
The proposed budget would set aside $2 million to support the system's workforce development initiative to increase the number of STEM and health care degrees awarded by system schools, Caret said in his testimony. It's part of a multi-year $33 million state commitment to the effort.