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The tuition dilemma

October 31, 2003

The best way to improve the economy and prosperity of a region, most would agree, is to increase the percentage of its residents who have a college education.

And yet the present economy has pushed Maryland officials to make deep cuts in the higher- education system, which has pushed up tuition rates.

Members of Washington County's General Assembly delegation disagree about whether those cuts are too deep, or just the state university system's fair share of the fiscal pain.

The easy answer is that every department has to tighten its belt, so why should higher education be any different? But that ignores the fact that many citizens have already tightened their belts, not to mention pinched a lot of pennies, to send their children to college.

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What happens if tuition rises steeply during a lagging economy, as one member of the University System's Board of Regents has proposed?

Parents and students have already been hit with one unanticipated mid-semester tuition increase. With the stock market still struggling and wages not growing quickly, we wonder how much more they can absorb.

Yes, we agree with Del. Richard Weldon, R-Washington, Frederick, that the university system should tighten up its spending wherever possible. And Del. Robert McKee's suggestion that tuition rates be locked in for a student's four- year career also has merit.

But consider this: The 2000 census showed that 14.6 percent of Washington County residents have a bachelor's or more advanced degree and that the county's median income was $40,617. In Frederick, the median income was $60,276.

What accounts for the difference? Almost twice as many in Frederick County have four-year degrees.

So yes, local lawmakers should support any effort to make the university system work more efficiently and cut any waste that might be there. But lawmakers should also demand that any cuts not be passed on to citizens as large tuition increases that would make it impossible for many to attend college.

People go to college to improve themselves and their skills. If they're willing to do that difficult task, state government shouldn't make it impossible for them to get it done.

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