- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s College of Maryland may need to raise its tuition next year by 4 percent to cover costs associated with salaries, new positions and utilities, according to college officials.
The tuition hike could be trimmed if additional state funding is approved by the legislature in the coming months.
In addition to raising tuition next academic year, the college’s board of trustees will likely be asked in February to approve a 3 percent increase for room costs and a 2 percent increase for food plans, the trustees were told during a Dec. 1 meeting. All together those increases would total almost $900 per student.
Student trustee Alex Walls, a senior, said that most students do understand that money is needed to pay for the quality education at St. Mary’s College, but urged the trustees to keep in mind the impacts tuition increases have on families.
The proposed increase would bump the total cost to just under $27,000 per year for in-state students living on campus.
“It does have a human cost” and can keep some families from being able to apply for admission, Walls said.
Trustee John Wobensmith said he hoped to limit the tuition increase.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will have at least a 2 percent buydown” from the state to reduce the tuition increase, Wobensmith said. However, the college will not know for sure until the state budget is finalized in April, two months after the trustees would need to vote on any increases, he said.
That scenario played out earlier this year, when the trustees in March voted to increase tuition for the current academic year by 4 percent to pay for college employee raises. That increase was reduced to 2 percent after the state later chipped in extra money.
This year a full-time Maryland student pays $26,063 for tuition, fees, room and board at St. Mary’s College, a hike of $718 per student compared to last year.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), who is also a trustee at St. Mary’s College, questioned just how much money the college needs from public sources, and whether the college administration had looked at cutting expenses.
Joseph Urgo, college president, said he is “quite comfortable” that he and his staff have done all they can to reduce expenses and still keep fidelity to the college’s mission of providing a quality liberal arts education. He said they will continue to look for other ways to save money.
Urgo said that the number of administrators and non-faculty staff is already lower per student than the college’s peer institutions. He said St. Mary’s College also uses fewer lab assistants and office assistants than many other colleges.
Tom Botzman, the college’s vice president for business and finance, said the college still has several positions frozen and unfilled that have been vacant for years and has reduced its need for electricity by using environmentally friendly processes.
Hoyer, in response, said the college should be sure that message is conveyed to state lawmakers and others. “We’re seeing as lean of a ship as we can,” to still offer the type of education promised at the college, he said.
Botzman said more revenue is needed, and that in addition to tuition, the college is pushing its fundraising, applying for more grants and has added summer programs that generate money.
“We are particularly deficient in alumni fundraising, and I think that is something we should be looking at,” said Susan Messitte, trustee and chair of the college’s joint investment advisory committee.
Urgo has said he would like to lower tuition, by as much as 12 percent, to help bring the rates more in line with other Maryland public colleges and universities.
He said Saturday that he will continue to talk to lawmakers about reining in tuition increases. St. Mary’s has an unique arrangement that allows for state funding to come in the form of a block grant that increases annually.
However, the block grant was not adjusted when the enrollment increased from 1,200 to 2,000 students. College officials have been talking to lawmakers about rebasing the grant using current enrollment figures.
Last spring St. Mary’s College students organized a protest in support of a living wage for college staff. Dozens marched across campus with signs supporting college workers. The starting salary for the lowest-paid staff was and remains $24,500.
However, all faculty, staff and administrators at St. Mary’s College of Maryland received $1,000 raises this fall, and are eligible for an additional 2 percent raise next month, thanks to money from this year’s tuition increase and extra state funding.