Tuition for in-state undergraduates will remain frozen for the third year in a row, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced Wednesday, but out-of-state tuition will increase by 4 percent.
After a nearly unanimous vote by the Board of Regents, which governors the University System of Maryland, O'Malley joined USM's Chancellor Brit Kirwan, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) and other officials in Baltimore to announce the tuition freeze.
"We feel this is an extraordinary indication of the support we are enjoying from the governor and the General Assembly," Kirwan said at the press conference.
In an interview with The Diamondback in May, O'Malley said he hoped he could hold off tuition hikes.
"We hope to hold [tuition increases] at zero for the next few years," he said. "God and the economy willing."
O'Malley did not explicitly say tuition would increase if voters do not approve a referendum to legalize slot-machine gambling in the state, which O'Malley supports and has tied to the future of higher education funding. However, he said a referendum failure in November would mean going "back to the drawing board" with the "same unpopular choices" when it comes to solving the state's budget problems.
"We're really fortunate," Student Government Association President Jonathan Sachs said. He said that, after attending a conference with 175 other SGA presidents from around the country, he found that most other state governments are not willing to financially support state colleges and universities to the same degree that Maryland does.
"It's a huge asset to us to have a friend in the governor's office," Sachs said.
Sachs said he would continue to lobby in Annapolis to help keep tuition down, vowing to meet with state Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary's), who chairs a commission on higher education funding Sachs said he believes a dedicated funding source would eliminate the yearly suspense about tuition.
Kirwan noted that students who entered college in fall 2005 and will graduate in spring 2009 will pay the same for tuition all four years, and he said he was unaware of any other state that could make that claim.
From 2002 through 2006, tuition increased more than 40 percent at some schools, prompting student protests and testimony before state lawmakers. O'Malley, elected in 2006, pledged to hold the line on tuition.
The tuition freeze comes at a cost, of course. Lawmakers pushed through $1.4 billion in tax increases during a special session last fall, including an increase in the corporate tax rate from 7 percent to 8.25 percent. Half the new revenue from that tax hike - about $54 million this fiscal year - will go into an investment fund for higher education in the upcoming fiscal year.
Out-of-state tuition will now be $21,637 a year, while in-state will remain $6,566. Housing costs will increase about 2 percent.
Del. Gail Bates (R-Howard) said it was unfair to use taxpayer dollars to freeze tuition without asking universities to do some belt-tightening.
"It's easy to say we're going to hold the line on tuition when you don't hold the line on the cost to operate the institutions," she said.
Robert Mitchell, appointed a Regent by O'Malley's Republican predecessor, Robert Ehrlich, was the only Regent to vote against the tuition freeze. He said afterward that he appreciated what the governor had done but added he felt the university system needed more money.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.