University system board approves tuition, fee increase

Maryland's in-state undergraduates will pay a few hundred dollars more per semester this fall under a new tuition-and-fee plan approved Wednesday by the university system's Board of Regents.

Out-of-state students will be hit a little harder, paying as much as $1,060 more, for example, at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The plan marks the fourth year that tuition for resident undergraduates at most Maryland schools has gone up 3 percent — an increase characterized by university system officials as moderate and lower than many states.

"That's a figure that gives our campuses the resources to serve students best while still maintaining affordability," said Mike Lurie, a university system spokesman.

During the four years before that, the universities operated under a tuition freeze pushed by Gov. Martin O'Malley. While the freeze was welcomed by many of the system's customers, legislative leaders and others ultimately argued that increases were needed if the schools were to make improvements to stay competitive with other states.

"It's really not bad," Jennifer Ma, an author of the "Trends in College Pricing" report put out by the College Board, said of the latest increase. She said Maryland remains one of the more affordable states to get a college education, thanks to the consistently small growth.

When out-of-state and graduate tuition and mandatory fees are included, the new prices represent a 2.4 percent increase across the University System of Maryland and will raise an additional $35.7 million in revenue.

According to data from the 2012-2013 school year, Maryland's average tuition at a public four-year school was $8,220, which ranked 27th most expensive out of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the College Board. Last year's 3 percent increase tied for third-lowest in the country.

Board members approved a 3 percent tuition hike for all schools except for Salisbury University, which was allowed a 6 percent bump to make up for years of charging less than competitors. Out-of-state students will see tuition increases of up to 4.4 percent.

On Wednesday, the university system's Board of Regents also approved a $4.97 billion operating budget and expressed optimism about the future of Baltimore's Coppin State University, which has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country, after hearing a turnaround plan.

"There are significant changes that need to be addressed" at Coppin, said board member Frank M. Reid III. Implementing the plan, which has yet to be approved, is "going to require a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility and a sense of accountability."

Student board member Steven Hershkowitz, a public policy graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, said students supported the tuition increase and characterized it as being "on the low end" nationwide.

"Our system has kept this 3 percent increase, which was very moderate, stable over the past [few] years, which is good because it's somewhat predictable," helping families plan their budgets, he said. He noted that the exact increase is "a political decision that gets made between state leaders."

The out-of-state and graduate student increases were made based on market rates.

The "moderate" increase was "made possible by the very generous support of the state," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the university system, referring to enhanced funding from the state for specific initiatives.

The school system's $4.97 billion operating budget includes $1.2 billion in state funds, a 9.3 percent increase over last fiscal year.

Turning to Coppin, Kirwan said the board was concerned by the school's "persistent underperformance," leading members to convene a special committee in December — as a Coppin president was stepping down — to study the institution and suggest improvements.

"To solve the problem, you have to know the problem," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the committee's chairman and president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Committee members — who included faculty, students, business leaders and state legislators — spent four months studying Coppin and presented their findings to the board Wednesday.

Among the positives, Hrabowski said, were some dedicated teachers, staff and alumni; a strong, if underused, technology infrastructure; financial and community support; and a graduation rate for transfer students that is significantly higher than the rate for first-time, full-time freshman.