- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) Seven University System of Maryland students are suing to block a midyear tuition increase, saying it's a violation of the contract between students and colleges.
The class-action lawsuit filed Friday in Baltimore Circuit Court argues that students enrolled for the school year on the understanding they would be charged the fixed tuition rates that their universities had posted for the fall and the spring semesters.
The students from the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland at Baltimore said university officials broke that agreement by deciding last month to raise this semester's rate by as much as $557 after some spring classes had started and after many spring tuition bills had been mailed.
"The students and universities have a contract, and the universities can't change it midway through the year," said Andrew Freeman, one of the attorneys representing the students. "It would be one thing to increase tuition for next year. But to say, 'Welcome back to school. Write us a check' is not fair, and we don't think it's legal."
The Board of Regents passed the midyear increase Jan. 23 for all the system's institutions, except Coppin State College and the University of Maryland University College, after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cut $36 million from this year's system budget. Students had been told of a likely increase in a Jan. 8 letter from system Chancellor William E. Kirwan. The increase resulted in additional spring semester payments of as much as $115 for in-state undergraduates, $333 for out-of-state undergraduates and $557 for some professional school students.
"We're struggling to react and certify the factual statements [in the suit], but we're prepared to defend the regents' action," said Assistant Attorney General John Anderson. "We don't think it's a breach of any legally cognizable contract. The university system was reluctant to do this but obviously had no choice."
Officials are counting on $12.9 million from the midyear increase to help them respond to $67 million in cuts to this year's budget. The system is left with about $800 million in state funding.
Regents said last month that the increase was needed because the system couldn't find $13 million more in savings in its roughly $2 billion budget without resorting to heavy layoffs or furloughs.
Regents also warned that another increase and layoffs are likely next year when, under Mr. Ehrlich's proposed budget, the system will get the same amount of state funding as this year.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday on the Maryland students' request for a temporary injunction to block the surcharges.

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