- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

Nearly 150 years ago, the University of Maryland was one of the first schools to adopt a federal program dedicated in part to opening the exclusive world of higher education to the masses.

Under the land-grant program, each state was given the resources to buy land for an agricultural university meant to “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes,” according to the 1862 Morrill Act that fostered the movement.

But with tuition next fall slated to be more than 30 percent higher than it was two years ago at the College Park campus, some Maryland higher-education leaders worry the school is retreating from its mission of offering an affordable college education.

Dwindling state support has also forced the university to slash the budgets of some of the extension programs meant to spread agricultural research and knowledge beyond the school, a hallmark of land-grant schools.

“The very deep budget cuts for the university system this year, together with the very large tuition increases, obviously moves the system away from its public land-grant roots,” said James Rosapepe, a member of the University System Board of Regents.

Maryland has two land-grant institutions: the flagship College Park campus, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), founded in 1886 as a historically black college.

Like all 13 institutions in the university system, both have raised tuition dramatically over the past two years.

Facing a severe state budget shortfall, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Republican, reduced the university system’s budget by about $122 million for the 2004 fiscal year. The regents responded by raising tuition by an average of 18 percent, including a rare midyear increase of 5 percent passed in January. Fearing further budget cuts in the next fiscal year, the regents approved an average tuition increase of 9.4 percent at the state’s universities.

That means in-state undergraduate students at College Park, who paid $4,800 in tuition and fees during the 2002-03 school year, will pay $7,426 in tuition and fees this fall. UMES students, who paid $3,181 in 2002-03, saw their tuition bills rise to $3,563 this year.

The trend is similar at most of the 76 land-grant universities across the nation, said Cheryl Fields, director of public affairs for the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

A recent study by the College Board showed tuition has skyrocketed over the past 10 years at state-supported four-year schools — which include land-grant institutions — jumping 47 percent in a decade.

Land-grant schools are faced with the task of maintaining academic standards with less money and at the same time preserving their accessibility to students from lower economic backgrounds, Mrs. Fields said.

“They are still struggling with their missions and are trying very hard to retain the mission of broad access,” she said.

The College Park campus was founded in 1859 as an agricultural college and joined the land-grant program three years later, according to George Callcott, an emeritus history professor at Maryland who wrote a history of the university.

The federal government gave each state vast tracts of uninhabited land in the western part of the country to sell. The states used the money for endowments for their schools.

The land-grant schools served a threefold mission: providing military training for a country embroiled in the Civil War; offering engineering courses; and teaching the sons of farmers the science of agriculture, Mr. Callcott said.

“It served the farmer, who is assumed to be a common man, poor and unable to afford the colleges that exist,” he said. “That was its most democratic element.”

Tuition was about $100 a year when the school opened, but by the late 19th century, students could attend for free because of generous federal grants. The school remained free until about 1915, Mr. Callcott said.

The days of free tuition are long gone, and tuition is gradually catching up to state and federal support as the major source of university funding. That risks placing the greatest burden on the students, contrary to the intent of the land-grant mission, said William Kirwan, chancellor of the university system.

At College Park, for example, of the $1.13 billion in revenue the university expects in the 2004 fiscal year, 25 percent, or $280 million, will be supplied by tuition. In 1998, tuition accounted for just 20 percent of revenue.

“I am concerned that the student is starting to pay a disproportionate part of the cost,” Mr. Kirwan said.

But the university system has done little to find alternatives to tuition increases, such as cuts in nonacademic programs, according to Mr. Ehrlich’s spokesman Henry Fawell. From 1994 to 2002, the system received $344 million in state aid but raised tuition each year, he said.

“Honoring the long-standing land-grant tradition is important,” he said. “The governor hopes that university officials look inward for cost savings.”

One way the university has cut costs is trimming the budget of the Maryland Cooperative Extension, a department that helps farmers and gardeners. The extension program is one of the land-grant system’s core missions. The cuts amounted to 9 percent in the last academic year, higher than the 7 percent cuts across all academic programs.

The university wants to use money from tuition increases for academics, not extension programs from which students do not benefit, said William Destler, university provost.

“It is a sign for sure that we are having budgetary difficulty,” he said. “But it is by no means an indication that we are going to walk away from our land-grant traditions.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide