Urgo Asks Governor for Additional Grant to Aid Affordability

President Joseph Urgo and Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Molly Mahoney Matthews, are asking Governor O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly for an additional $5 million a year to improve affordability and increase access to St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The College receives a block grant each year from the State of Maryland, currently in the amount of $17.5 million dollars. According to Vice President of Business and Finance, Tom Botzman, the block grant began as a deal with the state for a steady funding stream. Though the College tried to get the block grant tied to the cost of higher education, the original legislation tied the grant only to the rate of inflation.

“No one could have predicted what would happen to the cost of higher education,” said Urgo. According to the National Center for Education Statistics website, the cost of college nearly doubled in the last 15 years. “If our block grant was tied to the cost of higher education, we would be fine. [The additional $5 million] is really an adjustment to make up for the rising cost of high education,” said Urgo.

Conversations about the College’s proposed increase began during the last spring when Urgo testified in a legislative session before the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate Budget Committees: “The main issue I discussed with legislators was affordability.” Urgo told legislators, “there is a small percentage of people who want to do [liberal arts] work and when we lose one we lose a potential leader. We need those leaders.”

Following Urgo’s testimony, “the Budget Committee Chairs asked, ‘what can we do?’ Which is really a testimony to [Urgo’s] leadership. He made this a keynote issue,” according to Botzman.

The College’s response came in the form of a 20 page report due out on Sept. 1, pending the approval of the Governor’s office. A spokeswoman for the Governor said the report is currently being reviewed and could not comment on the Governor’s reaction or intentions until later in the budget process.

For the proposed increase to move forward, O’Malley must include the additional money in the budget he submits to the General Assembly in January.

Urgo and Matthews scheduled a meeting with O’Malley for Tuesday, Aug. 30 to discuss the report and increased funding. According to the Governor’s Office, O’Malley rescheduled the meeting to tour St. Mary’s County inspecting damage from Hurricane Irene.

The proposal is still in the early stages, according to Botzman, and it is too soon to tell if the proposal will be warmly received by the Governor and General Assembly. “We will know more after the special legislative session [on redistricting] in October,” said Botzman.

If the College receives the $5 million increase, the total block grant will increase to $23.5 million for next fiscal year. According to Urgo, the College would spend $2 million on reducing tuition, $2 million on increasing financial aid and $1 million on expanding the DeSousa Brent Scholarship to a four year program.

“We have one of the highest graduation rates in the state and one of the highest graduation rates for non-majority students,” said Urgo. He added St. Mary’s also has a nearly equal graduation rate between majority and non-majority students, a struggle for most colleges and universities. “The college is a success story for the state. Twenty years after the original deal, we are asking the state to recommit to the College.”

Urgo added that the University of Maryland system, of which St. Mary’s is not a part despite being a state-funded college, received money from the state in the last few years to help keep tuition low. St. Mary’s did not receive that money. “We are asking for the money we did not get,” said Urgo. With the additional money, Botzman said St. Mary’s could roll back the tuition increases from the last few years, bringing St. Mary’s tuition more inline with the University of Maryland system.

If the College does not receive the $5 million increase, Urgo said rolling back tuition increases would be difficult. Without the increase, the College will rely primarily on private fundraising to keep tuition from increasing.

The College is in the initial stage of a long-term fundraising effort to increase revenue to the College’s scholarship funds. The Office of Advancement is currently assessing the current donor base’s capacity, according to Urgo. Once assessed, Advancement will spend several years “quietly” soliciting donations before going public around 2015 with the fundraising campaign.

“The increased grant is really aimed at making St. Mary’s more affordable for all Maryland residents, strengthening the way we support students and improving the necessary supports all students need to succeed,” said Botzman.

The report from the College of the Governor and Budget Committee Report Chairs was not released in time for publication; visit thepointnews.com for the latest information.

Giving What You Can to Keep St. Mary’s Great

A girl I know turned to me and said that this was her last semester, she couldn’t afford to come back. Two days later, a guy stopped me on the path, to ask about financial aid possibilities, saying he was working twenty-hour weeks on top of school and still not making ends meet. Five days later, another person said she was taking twenty-four credits this semester, in an effort to graduate early to avoid additional debt. The next day, I heard from another student who had transferred to College Park already, unable to afford St. Mary’s College.

In nine days I heard from four different students in extreme financial difficulties. At other times throughout the semester, I heard from more than a dozen others in similar situations. Earlier this year, I wrote about what was happening with tuition, and why. I talked about the declining percentage of general budget funds coming from the state, and rising expenses despite austerity efforts. The school is working on solutions, from pushing the state for more money to increasing fundraising efforts for scholarships. Yes, both the school and the state need to work harder, and I’m pushing them on that, but sometimes we can’t wait for others to act. We must act now.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have a parent or other relative or funding source pay for the entirety of our education. We are the ones not struggling to make tuition payments, who take merit-based aid as a nice bonus, rather than as necessity. I am among this group, as many of you reading this article are. That is not to say that I personally have a great deal of money; on the contrary, my bank account is quite small. But what is there isn’t needed to pay for my education. It’s all discretionary funding, and while saving up for post graduation is necessary, maybe I can do with one less new shirt, or one less pack of “Natty Boh.”

At the end of last semester, I made a $200.00 donation for need-based financial aid. As mentioned in an earlier Point News article, another student made a $1,000.00 anonymous donation for need-based financial aid. That is an incredible start. What we need now is every student on the financially stable end of the spectrum, those of us who can afford it, to give whatever we can to help out our fellow students. If all you can give is five dollars, then do it. If you can give more, do it. If you have well off relatives, ask them for money if you’re comfortable doing so. If you have time, write to the legislature and tell them how much we need additional funding. Anything you can give, and anything you can think of outside of direct giving, is helpful. Together, we can help keep every student who wants to stay at St. Mary’s financially capable of doing so. All it takes is a little force of will and a determination as a student body to not let our peers fall by the wayside. Give everything you can, and we can do it.

So open your wallets and open your hearts. Let’s do this thing!