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$200 tuition increase expected at St. Mary's College


St. Mary's College, the public liberal arts campus in Southern Maryland that attracts some of the state's top students, is expected to announce a $200 tuition increase today that, combined with mandatory fees, would make it the most expensive public campus in Maryland.

The tuition increase follows a 70 percent jump in student fees this summer and brings the basic cost of attending the 1,500-student campus to $3,210 per year. That's 20 percent more than the highest price charged by any campus in the state university system. The figure does not include room and board, which is higher on some other campuses.

The increase at St. Mary's is the latest illustration of a growing movement in Maryland and elsewhere to shift more and more of the cost of a public college education to students in the wake of state revenue shortfalls.

St. Mary's students now will pay 26 percent of the direct cost of an education on their campus. They are also paying for an increasingly larger share of academic buildings, health care and police -- items previously paid for entirely by the state.

"As awful as it is, we are doing the right thing," said St. Mary's College President Edward T. Lewis. "The worst thing we can do is cave in and not protect the excellence we have built."

The trustees' executive committee approved the increase last month and formal approval by the full board is expected Oct. 4.

He predicted the tuition increase would be toughest on students whomust work to pay tuition.

"Students in every state in this country are going to have to pay more of the cost of public higher education," Dr. Lewis said, adding that political pressure is growing in other states to force non-resident students to pay the full costs.

The University of Maryland at College Park has already imposed two increases on non-residents this year, raising their cost to three times the Maryland residents' cost.

The governing board of the state university system approved a 15 percent one-time tuition surcharge last month to meet revenue shortfalls.

The added St. Mary's charge, to be affixed to bills mailed in November, is a permanent increase, being made in lieu of deep cuts in areas such as the library or faculty.

With previously approved increases, tuition this year goes up 12 percent. This year and last, college officials have cut administrative and other non-academic areas to continue to be able to fill vacant posts and hire four faculty members this fall.

The $200 is an 8.8 percent increase and will bring in $250,000, or 59 percent of the money to be returned to the state. The rest will come from maintenance and academic budgets.

On a campus where students last year volunteered to pay $100 extra to preserve health and police services, the reaction yesterday was mixed.

"I think there are a lot of different opinions," said senior Bill C. Jones, 23, president of the student government. He said that it breaks down into two equally strong camps -- those who believe the increase is necessary to preserve quality and those who believe that now is the time to dip into private funds raised by the president. The latter alternative is likely to be hotly debated Monday when the students meet with the president, he said.

St. Mary's, whose students on average have higher college entrance test scores than peers on any other Maryland public campus, is increasingly attractive to students who might otherwise attend a private college. It walks a fine line to balance quality and price. Even with the tuition increase, it remains a bargain compared with its main competitors, and in recent years has spent private and public money on a new plan for excellence, new professors and, beginning this month, a new $16 million science building.

It was the science building that led to a hefty increase in mandatory fees last summer, bringing the total to $710 annually. The college won approval from Gov. William Donald Schaefer to start the building ahead of schedule by offering to raise $4 million of the cost privately. Some of that now will come from students. The latest increases, plus room and board, bring the in-state price of a year at St. Mary's College to $7,310.

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