Over 100 lower-income Blazers may number among the estimated 3,000 students unable to attend college in the fall of 2005 because tuition costs for Maryland's public colleges and universities have risen as much as 50 percent above the national average, according to analysts from the University System of Maryland, a public corporation and charter system.
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education released a state report card that graded preparation, participation, affordability, completion, benefits and learning for Maryland's public secondary institutions on Sept. 15, giving the state an "F" for affordable education. The 2004 report card showed a decline in Maryland's grade for affordability, which was a "D" in 2000 and a "D-" in 2002.
Anne Kaiser, a member of the Blair PTSA and an academic counselor at American University, believes that this rise in tuition will increase the number of Blair students who must worry about paying for college in Maryland. The graduating Blair class of 2004 generated 125 applications for the University of Maryland in College Park (UMCP), 40 applications for Montgomery College in Rockville and 24 applications for Montgomery College in Takoma Park, according to information from the TCCi Family Connection program. However, in-state tuition and room and board for UMCP have increased to $4,572 and $7,241 per year respectively. For Montgomery College in Rockville, tuition is $4,416, and there is no room and board fee. "Blair people that live down in Silver Spring and the Takoma Park area are not generally the wealthiest people," Kaiser said, "and these people might be caught in the lack of funding coming from the states."
Poor affordability may alter or delay college plans for some seniors at Blair. "I know a lot of kids who are opting to go to schools that are less to pay for," said senior Sayda Cruz-Abreu. "Many kids I know are not even going to college for a semester so that they can work in order to build up money for their tuition," she said.
The University System of Maryland accounts for 7.5 percent of the state's budget, yet it shoulders 20 percent of the cuts needed this year to balance the state budget. The total of raised tuition costs and room and board at four-year colleges consume about 40 percent of median family income, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "We're in a very tight state budget crunch," said Rae Grad, Director of Federal Relations for the University of Maryland. "We're doing our best to reach out to students in need."
Maryland State Scholarship programs such as the Guaranteed Access Grant, the Educational Assistance Grant and the Part-Time Grant are among the need-based financial aid programs available to graduating Blazers.
Many members of the Blair PTSA blame Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich and the state government for poor prioritizing and neglecting duties to Maryland's youth. "I think Governor Ehrlich has abrogated his responsibility to the economic security and future of the state," said PTSA Co-President Fran Rothstein.
Others attributed state financial support cuts to the national economy. Blair College-Career Information Coordinator Sharon Williams related Maryland public colleges' rising costs to the ramifications of Sept. 11 and the current war in Iraq. "Our economy is going through a change because of what's going on outside our country, and we're paying for that with higher bills," she said.
Williams disapproved of the methods the Center used to grade affordability, claiming that they were biased. The category only measures whether students and families can afford to pay for higher education given income levels, financial aid and the types of colleges and universities in the state of Maryland.
Grad, among other advocates for higher education in Maryland, argued that the grade was unfair because it did not consider the programs in place to support students. "The report that was issued was very skewed in its methodologies," she said. "It wasn't a fair portrait of what's going on. Universities and colleges in Maryland are doing a lot to increase affordability of higher education."
David Breneman, Chair of the Center, defended the Center's report and said that its purpose was solely to remind people of reality. "We're just trying to say we are at risk of depriving a significant number of young people from the opportunity for higher education," he said.
Senior Erica Cruz recognized that financial aid may be readily available in Maryland, and she plans to use it to put herself through college next year instead of depending on support from her parents. "If I can get scholarships, that would be a big help," she said.
Jozi Zwerdling. Junior silver chips staff member Jozi Zwerdling got her name by combining her first and last initials (just to clear up the confusion). She enjoys eating frozen yogurt, taking moonlit walks on Bethany beach, hugging her adorable sister ori, and writing graffiti on her body. … More »