Volume XI, Issue 41 ~ October 9-15, 2003

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Worst Idea of the Year Award:
Huge Tuition Increases

We were heartened to hear Gov. Robert Ehrlich pooh-pooh the horrific idea of his chief fundraiser: doubling tuition at Maryland public colleges and universities over the next few years.

Ehrlich, who comes from a working-class family himself, said that Richard Hug had not consulted him before proposing increases that would raise tuition at state schools from an average of $4,400 to $9,000 over the next five or six years.

At College Park, the increase would be even more dramatic: from $6,700 yearly to $15,000, Hug told The Washington Post. Hug added his belief that Maryland’s colleges should be less reliant on state government.

We do our best to remain civil in this editorial space, but this kind of shortsightedness makes us want to scream.

First, it fits all too perfectly into the troubling specter of trickle-down taxes, in which our public institutions are being bled of their economic life, and the people who can least afford it are being forced to bail them out.

Affluent families have thousands of colleges and universities from which to choose; that many send their daughters and sons to state schools is testimony to the vitality and appeal of these public institutions. But all families are supposed to be able to afford a place for their children at the rich banquet hall of public education.

How many of us could write a $6,700 check or a $15,000 check for tuition, on top of the many other costs of sending a kid to college? What if you have two college-aged kids and are caring for a sick parent?

‘Too bad for you,’ Hug seems to be saying, as if our fine system of public universities and colleges belonged to the rich.

They don’t. We call them “state schools” for a reason: They are supported by all of us taxpayers because we all have a stake in Maryland’s new generations of able, thoughtful citizens. Our future needs every child. We need them because the contributions our kids — rich, middle class or poor — have to make are not graded by family income.

And we need them because a wasted child becomes a devastating social expense.

There’s another issue at work here. Where else can our kids carve out a livelihood but college? This isn’t 1953, when America’s thriving industrial economy paid wages you could stake a life on. Without college, the bulk of today’s kids can look forward to low-wage, service-industry jobs — without insurance now or security in the future. Economic justice is a by-product of our state colleges.

But the key here is keeping state colleges and universities affordable by all, and the prospect of doubling tuition — which essentially means reducing our commitment to public education by half — no responsible Marylander should tolerate.

We wish we could write off Hug as just another tax-averse rich person. But he is hardly a loose cannon. He is among Ehrlich’s closest political allies, raising $10 million to get the governor elected in the first place. Ehrlich appointed him to the Board of Regents, and Hug said he planned to formally propose his increases as early as this week.

In distancing himself from these obscene increases, the governor was careful not to criticize Hug. Our hope is that instead of speaking cautiously, the governor would roundly condemn his political pal’s proposal before it can gather momentum.

The aim should be helping kids go to college, not putting high-dollar obstacles in the way.



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Last updated October 9, 2003 @ 1:40am