On Sept. 1st, St. Mary’s College of Maryland submitted a 30-page report to the Chairs of the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate Budget Committees, at their request, outlining a proposed $5 million annual increase in the College’s block grant. The report includes the exigence and plan for the additional money.
Currently, the College receives $17.2 million a year from the state. The block grant is tied to inflation but, as the report points out, the cost of higher education has risen much faster than the rate of inflation. According to the report, in the first year of the block grant the College received $10.6 million, representing 50 percent of the operating budget, whereas this year’s grant represents just 27 percent of the operating budget.
Increasing the block grant is required to meet what the report calls the two pillars of the St. Mary’s mission as charged by its founding legislation: “(1) the promise of public education affordable to all and thriving on diversity, and; (2) high standards of academic excellence.” The report calls St. Mary’s “an elite model of higher eduction that is pointedly non-elitist, but accessible to all students who possess the drive to attend college.”
The central premise of the report is that the two pillars of St. Mary’s, high standards and affordable, need a renewed investment from both private donors and the State of Maryland to succeed.
The report lays out a five-year fundraising plan for the College to raise $10-15 million from private sources in addition to requesting $5 million from the Maryland General Assembly. With the additional funding, the College offers three actions to attain the two pillars of the College’s mission.
1.) A 12 percent reduction for in-state tuition, bringing tuition down to 2009 levels.
2.) $7,200 annual need-based grant to reduce the gap between Pell-grant funding and total cost.
3.) Raise the four-year graduation rate for all students to 80 percent.
The 12 percent tuition reduction is aimed at reducing the $5,694 gap between St. Mary’s and the rest of the University System of Maryland’s (USM) tuition to $3,533. The Report points out that USM received significant money in the last several years to help freeze in-state tuition that St. Mary’s did not receive. Had St. Mary’s received the same amount, the report says the College’s block grant would be $6.8 million larger.
The report also points out St. Mary’s supports an additional 324 in-state students since 1998 and had the block grant risen along with those numbers the College would receive an additional $4.4 million a year. The report said, “St. Mary’s College has expanded to meet the needs of the state, but the cost of this expansion has been borne by our students and their families.”
The tuition reduction is not the only way the report said the school intends to make St. Mary’s more affordable. The College proposes a $7,200 need-based grant for those eligible for Pell grants. “By selecting students receiving a Pell Grant for these new need-based grants, we have a federally defined group that represents the population with the fewest financial resources,” said the report.
In 2001, 70 percent of Pell-eligible students had sufficient income to pay for college compared to 40 percent today. The report states that a 12 percent reduction in tuition combined with a $7,200 need-based grant would cover the average Pell-eligible student’s need gap.
Finally, the report proposes expanding the DeSousa-Brent scholars program to a four-year scope. “A key component of our continuing commitment to the founding legislation on academic rigor relies upon providing the resources needed to assist students drawn from minority groups and those with limited family resources and less college preparation,” said the report about the DeSousa-Brent program.
The DeSousa-Brent expansion is aimed at improving the four-year minority graduation rate, currently at 58 percent, compared to an overall graduation rate of 72 percent, to the 80 percent goal set by the College.
The report ends with a note to legislatures asking them to invest in Maryland’s future. It said, “our proposal asks that we recalibrate the level of state support so that we may continue to recruit high-capacity students and not limit eligibility to standards of wealth, but solely to a willingness to meet the challenge of the honors college curriculum at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.”
The next step for the proposal is the Governor’s consideration and inclusion of the additional block grant in his budget due out in January.