Maryland students will see tuition at the state's public universities go up by at least 5 percent this fall, and for the first time the flagship campus in College Park will charge extra fees to upperclassmen who are pursuing degrees in the "high-demand" fields of engineering, business and computer science.
In-state students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County will be charged 7 percent more, and graduate students will pay up to 13.5 percent more, under a tuition schedule approved Wednesday by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
The regents, meeting in Baltimore, voted 9-3 for the increases. Some expressed concern that they are too much, too soon after a 2 percent increase at several campuses in January.
Regent David Kinkopf, a Baltimore attorney, said the 5 percent increase is the "outer limit" of what he considers reasonable. Regent Thomas G. Slater, a lawyer and former teacher from Frederick County, said he voted for the increase reluctantly.
Slater said state government needs to step up its support of public colleges and universities.
Sydney Comitz, the student body president at the University of Baltimore, lobbied for smaller increases at her school, where she said students often struggle financially.
Comitz, who is graduating this month with a business degree and is already enrolled in law school, said the university should be able to find other cuts so that the tuition increase could be limited to 3 percent or 4 percent.
"We're just asking: Cut a little bit more," she asked board members.
Her proposal was rejected.
"This was a little bit hard to watch," Comitz said after the meeting. "This entire process has been a bit dismissive of student input."
The regents included plans for the 5 percent increase in the budget proposal they sent last fall to then-Gov. Martin O'Malley. The increase stayed in the budget as it was reviewed by Gov. Larry Hogan and the state General Assembly.
But shortly before O'Malley left office in January, he ordered $40 million in cuts to the university system in January. Some institutions raised tuition by 2 percent.
Kirwan said those cuts and another $7 million trimmed by the General Assembly will leave a hole that the 5 percent increase won't fill. He said campuses still will have to make further spending cuts
Annual tuition for in-state undergraduates at the University of Maryland, College Park will increase from $7,764 to $8,152. At Towson University, annual tuition will rise from $6,124 to $6,430.
UMBC's in-state undergraduate tuition will rise from $7,518 to $8,044 — a 7 percent hike that reflects the 5 percent increase plus 2 percent that UMBC elected not to add in January.
Graduate school tuition increases vary by program. Most graduate students will see a 5 percent increase, but those in a few programs will pay significantly more: 13.5 percent for a part-time MBA at the University of Baltimore, nearly 10 percent for a part-time MBA at College Park, and 13 percent more for a dental degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
The regents allowed College Park to tack on premiums for the high-demand majors that President Wallace D. Loh called the school's "crown jewels."
Starting this fall, juniors and seniors in engineering, computer science and business will pay $700 more per year. The extra fee will gradually increase to $2,800 per year by 2018.
Loh defended the fees, saying they will help the university accommodate more undergraduates in those programs and improve the level of teaching.
He said all three have strong interest among students, high national rankings that need to be retained and strong success in placing graduates in high-paying careers.
Loh said the money generated will be spent on financial aid, smaller classes and upgrades to labs. He said all other Big Ten schools charge such fees.
Patrick Ronk, president of College Park's Student Government Association, said he had heard only "whispers" about the fees until this week. He said that he's not necessarily opposed to the idea but thinks it should have been discussed with students before the vote.
"It's frustrating for me to see a really significant proposal to be brought up and voted on in three days," said Ronk, a junior government and politics major.