Keep higher education affordable
There has been much talk about “budget mess” in Annapolis. The blame game has disappeared, more or less, from the public’s view into the backroom negotiations, where our lawmakers desperately scramble to make a deal. However, during these private discussions, we Marylanders must not forget that we must not let our leaders negotiate away our principles.
We write as the representatives of more than 180,000 students in the University System of Maryland. Our passion for public higher education is not a product of generational zeitgeist. Post-secondary education fuels innovation, discovery, and not just national, but global competitiveness. Our futures are what is at stake in this impasse.
Public institutions of higher learning in Maryland provide quality education combined with accessibility for all Marylanders. In addition, we are wholly committed to working with our institutions to meet the goal of Gov. Martin O’Malley to make sure 55 percent of Marylanders between the ages of 21 and 64 will have a post-secondary degree by 2025.
However, under the current budget, if we are to weather a cut in the amount of tens of millions, as is currently the case, tuition will be raised at a minimum of 10 percent from current levels.
The impacts on affordability and quality are painfully obvious — while class sizes rise, academic programs get trimmed, faculty recruitment and retention falters, student debt rises, and accessibility decreases. Our upward trajectory turns into a downward spiral. The problem is dire, but the solution is obvious. We strongly urge our elected leaders to reach consensus on a comprehensive revenue-generating package that would power our state forward on higher education.
There are those who would say that cutting spending is the way to go, that calling this budget the “doomsday” budget is misleading. But let them tell that to a University of Maryland, College Park, student, who writes, “College is an experience meant to enrich the rest of your life, but not when it becomes a burden on both the family and the student. We feel guilty for the money our family has to spend and at times regret going to college.”
There are some issues that can be compromised on. On principle, that issue cannot be education. It is a public good, much like our roads or hospitals. Higher education is an investment into our futures and into your children.
This issue is not about politics. It is not about parochial interests that work to pit Marylander against Marylander at the expense of the common good. The issue is about protecting what is essential to the continued health of the State. We elected our leaders to lead, and decisive leadership is what we expect. We have entrusted our futures in their hands. We now call on them to find the common ground upon which together, we can grow our state.
The University System of Maryland Student Council, which represents more than 180,000 students, is one of four advisory councils to the chancellor and the Board of Regents. Its membership includes representatives from 11 public universities and colleges and two regional higher education centers.