- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday that he would use federal stimulus money to offset a tuition freeze for public universities and increase state funds for community colleges.

Mr. O’Malley made the announcement at Bowie State University, where he told students and faculty that continuing the freeze for the third straight year was one of many proposals on the chopping block to eliminate a $1.5 billion budget deficit. The General Assembly has yet to vote on the issue.

“The revenue is greatly eroded between the time when I introduced the budget and where we are right now,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. “We’ve had to cut a lot out of the budget, and one of the things that was threatened would have been the tuition freeze.”

Mr. O’Malley was joined by U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrats.

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Caroline Republican, said that reliance on the stimulus funding now could bring higher tuition costs in the future.

“It’s a temporary solution that does not address a very serious long-term problem,” said Mr. Colburn, a member of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “Eventually, tuition rates have to go up, and Maryland students and their families are going to have to at some point pay the true cost of their college education.”

Mr. Colburn likened the eventual tuition increase to the way utility bills spiked 72 percent in 2006 after rate caps were lifted after a six-year freeze.

“There’s no easy fix to the problem. People went crazy back then when the electricity rates went up, and unfortunately something similar could happen in 2011 or 2012 for students,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley plans to use the stimulus funds to increase funding for the state’s 16 community colleges, attended by roughly 500,000 students, by 5 percent.

Miss Mikulski said the federal money will be used primarily to increase funding for federal Pell grants and debt forgiveness for low-income students, as well as to create more federal work-study programs.

“We inherited a terrible mess, and our economy is facing severe challenges,” she said. “But we need to be sure that our young people continue to have access to the American dream.”

The average annual tuition for in-state students at the University of Maryland at College Park, the state’s flagship university, is $8,005. Before the freeze in 2006, tuition in Maryland was the sixth highest in the country. With the freeze, Maryland in-state tuition is now the 16th highest and is expected to rank as the 18th highest by 2010.

The tuition freeze would cost the state $16 million for fiscal 2010. In-state tuition increased 42 percent during the final three years of the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Mr. Ehrlich approved the freeze in 2006, but it did not take effect until 2007.

Mr. O’Malley said the tuition rates will increase at some point. “Eventually [the rates] will have to go up,” he said. “There’s nothing that can stay static.”

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