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.
As of fiscal year 2011, only 18 percent of the first-time, full-time freshman graduated within a six-year time frame, according the Maryland Higher Education Commission, by far the worst rate in the state, which averages 63 percent overall. However, 42 percent of transfer students graduated that year. The figure was below the state average of 56 percent, but encouraging to members nonetheless.
Among the problems the committee highlighted are: Coppin spends the most per student, yet still has among the worst graduation rates; some faculty members weren't bothering to show up to teach classes; and the school continued to add programs and staff despite declining enrollment and an operating budget deficit.
The report also noted that many of Coppin's first-time students come in underprepared, with 66 percent taking remedial classes. Many also are underprivileged, with most growing up in low-income households, making them eligible for aid. More than 80 percent of the university's students received some kind of aid, yet many complained it wasn't distributed in a timely manner and that students were treated poorly in the financial aid offices.
The committee recommended that aid counseling be undertaken earlier to reach more students.
It also recommended that Coppin consider partnerships with community colleges and offer delayed admission to students who need to complete certain requirements and that it target transfer and older students for enrollment and support, knowing they're more likely to succeed.
An overhaul of the academic programs and the administration is suggested as well.
"Working together, we're determined that we can make a difference," Hrabowski said.
Reid called the report "a model" for other historically black institutions, and board member Gary L. Attman expressed confidence in Coppin's future based on the recommended changes.
"I think the future is great if in fact we take this report and move forward quickly," said Baltimore state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, who was a member of the committee.
The regents accepted the committee report and opened a public comment period through June 10. A vote on the plan is scheduled for the board's June 21 meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Kirwan said the board hadn't intervened before, despite a long history of issues at Coppin, because members expected the school's leadership to turn things around.
Each of the last two presidents came in with a "change agenda," Kirwan said, yet failed to execute. When the most recent president stepped down this winter, the board decided to take a deep look at the school before searching for a replacement.
He believes this effort will succeed where others haven't because "the strategy here is different," he said, "in that the board is now demanding change, and people are going to be held accountable."
Tuition and fee increases
for full-time undergraduates
Bowie State University: $332 ($343 out-of-state)
Coppin State University: $162 ($305)
Frostburg State University: $292 ($752)
Salisbury University: $428 ($428)*
Towson University: $210 ($266)
University of Baltimore: $174 ($482)
University of Maryland, Baltimore County: $304 ($817)
University of Maryland, College Park: $253 ($1,060)
University of Maryland, Eastern Shore: $285 ($655)
* Salisbury University raised in-state tuition and fee rates 5.6 percent and out-of-state rates 2.7 percent
SOURCE: University System of MarylandCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun