Citing a report that Marylanders are carrying the highest level of student debt in the country, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather R. Mizeur will propose a plan Monday to make college more affordable and increase need-based financial aid.
Mizeur, who is running for governor against Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in the June 24 Democratic primary, is calling for a $12 million increase in aid based on a family's ability to afford college tuition and fees.
Steven Hershkowitz, a Mizeur campaign spokesman, acknowledged tuition increases at Maryland's public universities have been among the lowest in the nation during the O'Malley-Brown administration, but he said more financial assistance is needed.
"Keeping tuition and fees low is just the first step in keeping college affordable. You have to look at the financial aid part as well," Hershkowitz said.
In a position paper released to The Baltimore Sun, Mizeur says to pay for the increase she will propose elimination of the state's legislative scholarship, under which senators and delegates get to award scholarships with little oversight of how the money is used. The unusual program has often been the subject of criticism, but it remains a treasured perk of the job for many lawmakers.
Mizeur, a two-term delegate from Montgomery County, suggested she is open to more sweeping changes to the way Maryland helps students afford college. She will propose creation of a College Affordability for All Commission that would be charged with studying reforms to the state's system of funding higher education.
Among the ideas the commission would be asked to consider is a "pay it forward" system under which students would attend public colleges without paying tuition or fees but would pay back the cost of their higher education based on a percentage of income after graduation. The Mizeur campaign noted that the concept is being considered in Oregon and Ohio.
Mizeur will also propose that the panel study whether the state should set up its own low-interest student aid system to supplement the federal program.
To underscore the need for state action, Mizeur pointed to statistics showing that Marylanders carry an average of $28,330 of education debt, the highest level in the country. The figure is from a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
To address that, Mizeur will propose a shift in the emphasis of scholarship programs at the state's public higher education institutions from merit-based help to need-driven aid. She said that by requiring Maryland's public colleges to devote 50 percent of scholarship aid to need-based assistance, Maryland could increase its aid to students from low-income families by a further $15 million a year.
Mizeur will also outline a plan to increase the percentage of graduating high school seniors who complete applications for federal aid. Her campaign pointed to figures showing that only 55 percent of community college and 61 percent of four-year public college students in Maryland complete that form — essential for obtaining federal tuition help. She will propose a program to work with the colleges to raise that percentage to 75 percent by 2022.
Holding down increases in public college tuition has been a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley, and over the past eight years the state has seen its tuition levels go from being among the nation's highest to about the middle.
Brown has also promised to hold college costs down, saying he would keep tuition increases to no more than 3 percent a year, the same level O'Malley has permitted in recent years.
Gansler has not issued a formal position paper on college costs, though he has indicated he would like to see more emphasis on need-based aid.