While Washington County area college students increasingly shell out more money for rising tuition costs, campus officials argue that tuition fees are not excessive, considering the surging rate of inflation and declining federal and state appropriations.
"It's just the cost of doing business," said Arthur Barnhart, comptroller of Hagerstown Junior College.
"We don't like to have to raise tuition. When we do, we take it very seriously," said Vice President of Finance Marty Crabbs, of Frederick Community College.
Like Pennsylvania State University at University Park and Shippensburg University, Frederick Community College lost financial ground when state funding dropped nearly 30 percent since 1990 and enrollment slipped about 3 percent in the last few years.
The solution? "We had to take a hard look at tuition," which comprises about 38 percent of Frederick Community College's revenue in its total budget, Crabbs said.
But Crabbs said students have not reacted negatively to the tuition hike.
Indeed, students seem to perceive a recent upward trend in area tuition rates, accepting the news with resignation and open wallets.
"Across the board, colleges are increasing tuition, but it seems from my experience, that your financial aid increases with your need," said Amy O'Toole, a 21-year-old Mount St. Mary's senior.
O'Toole's tuition is mostly covered by scholarships, grants and student loans, most of which the school awarded her.
In fact, Mount St. Mary's financial aid packages, disbursed to nearly 80 percent of their students, would be impossible without a hike in tuition, said Frank Buhrman, public relations director for the Emmitsburg, Md., college.
"Over half of our total increase in tuition has gone into financial aid," Buhrman said.
But Angel Venable, a 20-year-old Hood College junior, said skyrocketing tuition heightens pressure and competition for students applying for financial aid. "The longer you wait, the harder it is to get money," she said.
"If [Hood's] tuition keeps going up like this, it might affect where freshmen go," said Venable, who nevertheless said the price she pays is worth her education at Hood.
Despite elevated costs, many campus officials claim their enrollment figures have remained consistent.
Although Penn State costs have risen each year, high school students nationwide send their Scholastic Assessment Test scores there more often than to any other institution, said Alan Janesch, assistant news bureau manager in the school's public information department.
"Students can still recognize good academic institutions," said Shippensburg University spokesman Peter Gigliotti, who cited a recent US News & World Report survey that ranked his university tops in financial efficiency.
Shippensburg attributes its rising costs to legislative guidelines. The Board of Governors oversees Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education and sets a uniform tuition rate each year for its 14 participating universities, said Scott Shewell, the system's press secretary.
The board will meet in July to settle the upcoming year's system tuition rate, which should not exceed an estimated 3 percent rise, Shewell added.
When asked whether tuition fees will decrease in the near future, Shewell responded, "Anything is possible if there's additional state funding."
Similarly, the Board of Regents, which governs the University of Maryland System, approved a mandatory tuition plan for all system institutions in Maryland, including University of Maryland and Frostburg State University - the two area schools with the highest tuition increase.
To ensure that Maryland does not subsidize out-of-state students' tuition fees, participating institutions implemented a four-year systemwide hike in tuition that will end with the 1997-1998 increase.
"Now the Board of Regents foresees a tuition rise to allow for inflation," explained Roger Bruszewski, Frostburg's vice president for administration and finance. "They will decide by the end of August."
By and large, however, many campus officials and students agree that tuition fees only aid higher institutions in making a quality and technologically advanced education available to all those interested.
"There are things that students want, and we are trying to be responsive to their needs and provide things most conducive to the learning environment," Buhrman said. "But these things have a price tag."
Even Amin, who said he is "still surviving" after paying for three years of the University of Maryland fire protection engineering program, supports that position. "I feel like this is one of the best values for the money you pay for an education."