St. Mary's Not Included in State Tuition Buyback

The state of Maryland has instated a two percent tuition buyback for schools in the state system for the 2012-2013 school year; however, St. Mary’s will not be included in the program.

The plan simply means that whatever increase in tuition for state schools like Towson University, Salisbury University, Bowie State University, Morgan State University, Frostburg State University, and all the University of Maryland institutions, the state of Maryland will cover two percent of the hike in price.

Though the College’s Board of Trustees decided to table voting on the tuition cost for the 2012-2013 school year until March 17 in their meeting on Saturday, Feb. 25, students at St. Mary’s will not receive the assistance being given at the other colleges no matter the decision.

According to Vice President for Business and Affairs Tom Botzman, the state will not include the College in the buyback program because it is funded by a unique block grant that was agreed on in 1992, therefore giving it freedom from the state system and a steady source of funding.  In a budget presentation on Feb. 22 in St. Mary’s Hall, President Joe Urgo said, “We are lucky and pleased that the state has kept its promise all these years [with the block grant program].”

“The state allows us to operate as a quasi-private and independent institution, but we’re still public,” said Botzman.  “That agreement was made so [St. Mary’s] could build an academically rigorous program, and so that we could thrive on diversity.” He also noted that this position allows the college to set its own tuition to compete against its private peer institutions.

As far as tuition goes, Botzman, in the Feb. 22 budget presentation, gave the audience possible budget scenarios for tuition increases between zero and six percent.

If the College were to keep both in and out-of-state tuition at this year’s price, it would face a pro-forma deficit of 1.3 million dollars.  Cuts would come from cancelling IT (Information Technology) upgrades, faculty and staff reductions, and having to identify $419,000 in reductions to current academic and non-academic programs, and cancelling all new initiatives like the creation of faculty and staff positions.

If the tuition were to go up three percent, the pro-forma deficit would be at $684,000, forcing the College to cancel most new initiatives, including new personnel positions, and cutting IT upgrades by $70,000. It would also cap the faculty salary at two percent after a three-year salary freeze. A four or five percent increase would still leave the College in a six-digit deficit, having to freeze new faculty lines and taking an impact on students’ ability to pay and the College’s retention rate.  Finally, a six percent increase, Botzman explained, would actually leave a budget surplus of $70,000, but would severely reduce diversity and increase student financial strain.

Botzman also presented on the possible expenses with potential for reduction, which include reducing College coverage of unfunded Foundation scholarships by $500,000; closing Anne Arundel Hall in December 2012, saving $80,000 in construction costs; eliminating several open houses, saving around $5,000; eliminating admissions mailings, saving around $10,000; and delaying the implementation of two housekeeping positions, saving around $100,000.

“They are relatively little options, but they add up,” said Botzman.

Though the Board of Trustees gave recommendations at the Feb. 25 meeting ranging from a zero percent increase, raising it two percent for in-state and four percent for out-of-state students, and a four percent raise across the board, the final decision will not be made until March 17.

Tuition has seen a steady increase over the past twelve years.  “We will try to slow down the rate of tuition increase,” said Botzman.  “With that said, there are certain costs that go up every year in which we have to cover, and then there are some things that we want to do.  We always try to find the balance.” Though 44 percent of the College’s revenue comes from tuition and fees, Botzman said that in the future, the goal is to reduce that to about 35 percent.  The target budget includes filling the nine percent gap mostly with more funding from private donations and fundraising.

Though the tuition increase is inevitable, students are concerned about the climbing cost.  Student Government Association President Mark Snyder commented on the situation, saying, “It’s going to get harder and harder for people to come here.  It’s supposed to be a small, affordable, liberal arts college. It’s just slipping out of people’s reach, it’s not good.”

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