More than 100 University of Maryland students gathered outside the College Park campus’ library April 19 to protest tuition hikes likely under the state’s “doomsday” budget, which would cut $50 million in funding for the University System of Maryland.
“We want to show Annapolis higher education should be a priority,” said Daniel Borman, a senior and the executive board adviser for the university’s College Democrats, which organized the rally. “Higher education is an engine of economic growth in the state.”
Some officials have said students could see tuition increases greater than the 3 percent hike included in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) proposed budget if legislators do not reconvene for a special session to replace the “doomsday” default budget, an austere backup plan triggered when legislators left Annapolis on April 9 without passing a more palatable budget agreement. The “doomsday” budget mandates $512 million in cuts statewide to education, libraries and public safety starting July 1.
O’Malley has until June 30 to call legislators back to Annapolis for a special session that could result in a different budget agreement.
In-state students at the university are paying about $8,655 in tuition and fees for the 2011-2012 school year, while out-of-state students are paying about $26,000, according to the university’s website. Students at the rally estimated 10 percent increases at $800 for in-state students and $2,600 for out-of-state students.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington apologized to the assembled students for the General Assembly’s work on the budget and urged them to call or write legislators in support of a special session.
“We’ve got to come up with a plan that’s affordable and smart going forward … that doesn’t place the cost of our mistakes on your backs,” he said. “With your pressure, we’re going to make sure that happens.”
Higher education must continue to be viewed as a public good accessible to those who want it, Madaleno said, not a private luxury only available to those who can afford it.
Chanting “Back to Annapolis” and holding signs declaring, “I can’t afford another large tuition increase,” and, “Don’t balance the budget on my back,” students listened to a handful of mostly student speakers who emphasized the financial burden a large tuition hike would place on students and their families.
The half-hour rally was publicized via emails, phone calls and social media, Borman said.
Rosa Abraha, a sophomore from Silver Spring, told her peers she started paying her own tuition after her father, who wanted to make sure Abraha went to college, died and her mother began caring for their family on her own.
“Eight hundred dollars means 800 new doubts, 800 new uncertainties, 800 new concerns, 800 even greater fears I may not be able to fulfill my father’s dreams here at the University of Maryland,” she said.
Diana Villatoro-Sancho, a freshman from Silver Spring, said she already works two jobs and would have to take out a greater amount in student loans to cover increased tuition.
“I don’t want to spend $800 more,” she said. “We’re already going deep into our pockets to pay tuition now.”