- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s public college students are pressuring state lawmakers on tuition increases by showing up at hearings, signing petitions and appearing in Annapolis more frequently to urge more affordable payments.

After in-state tuition soared more than 40 percent since 2002 at some schools, the legislature is considering a tuition freeze for next year. The University System of Maryland has suggested a 4.5 percent increase for next school year’s in-state undergraduates.

The debate brought Joseph Oberstein, 18, to Annapolis on Tuesday to testify in favor of a tuition freeze, a bill that would freeze tuition only if the state spends more on colleges to make up the difference. Mr. Oberstein works at a bagel shop to make ends meet at the University of Maryland College Park and said tuition increases add to the amount of debt he must incur to get a business degree.

“I’m taking on all this debt right now,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Last week, campus student council members met in Annapolis to support a freeze. Delegate Sheila Ellis Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, sponsored the freeze proposal in the House and said students and their parents are getting sick of tuition increases.

“Certainly public sentiment is on our side. Everything is going up. The taxpayers, they need help,” Mrs. Hixson said.

But even the students aren’t of one mind about how to keep tuition low. The student council at the University of Maryland at College Park has said it would rather have a modest tuition increase than a cut in services, such as shorter library hours or fewer professors.

Of the dozen who showed up to testify Tuesday, some said they wanted a freeze no matter what, while others said tuition should be capped only if the state can send more money to the colleges.

“We don’t have a united front on that,” Mr. Oberstein said.

But the tuition freeze proposals, pending in both chambers, have support from high-profile lawmakers. In addition to Mrs. Hixson, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has said students shouldn’t have to bear the burden of high tuition increases.

“I bused tables going to college. … It was affordable,” Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, said last week at an event with the student council members. He assured the students, “We can do better. We’re going to find the money.”

If approved, the tuition freeze would take effect only if the state appropriates about $19 million by August to make up the difference. Delegate Doyle Niemann, Prince George’s Democrat, pointed out that the bill wouldn’t generate a net increase for the schools.

“Does this really mean anything?” Mr. Niemann asked. “Really, it’s all contingent on the governor putting in more money.”

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