- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

Higher-education leaders in the Washington area are warning parents and students that state funding cuts and increasing demand have created a sort of vise grip on colleges, forcing an even tighter crunch for space.

“We ought to be very concerned about this,” said Charlene Drew Jarvis, president of Southeastern University in the District.

Mrs. Jarvis joined officials from George Mason University in Fairfax and the University of Maryland at College Park for a round-table discussion in front of regional business leaders in Bethesda yesterday.

They agreed that funding problems are squeezing the number of higher-education spaces available, despite regular and sharp tuition increases.

“We’re just keeping our heads above water,” University of Maryland Provost William Destler said.

He insisted that state budget cuts have forced Maryland to depend on tuition increases just to keep the status quo. Mr. Destler said the school can’t afford to increase enrollment.

He and other higher-education leaders are depicting a systemwide dilemma: Either cap enrollment or lower quality.

So far, the major public universities in the area have chosen quality over access.

George Mason President Alan Merten said his university once accepted almost every student who finished two years at Northern Virginia Community College. But not anymore.

“We ought to be especially concerned about … the impact on people of color and immigrants,” Mrs. Jarvis said.

She said as top universities turn down an increasing number of applicants, those students will move to historically black universities and two-year schools. In turn, she said, those institutions will shut out others as well.

“The work force of the future is going to be black and brown,” she said. “The working class needs the advantage of community college.”

Officials also warn that the United States is losing top students because of strict immigration policies, including parts of the USA Patriot Act.

Mr. Merten said international applications have dropped dramatically.

He said the Patriot Act has an important purpose, but he thinks it’s symptomatic of extreme reactions by the State Department and other federal agencies.

The result, said Mr. Merten and others, is that students are moving away from U.S. schools in droves and instead applying to top universities in countries with more flexible visa policies.

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