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McKee tuition plan faces a fight

March 05, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - When Del. Robert A. McKee went to Lynchburg College more than 30 years ago, he knew up front what his entire college education would cost.

The Virginia private school had a policy of keeping each student's tuition constant for four years.

McKee, R-Washington, thought a similar plan here could help University System of Maryland students.

That way, families could better prepare for what is often their second-largest expense after buying a home, he told the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Judging from opposition at the bill hearing, McKee's proposal has a slim chance of passing.

Chancellor William "Britt" Kirwan said while he likes the idea he doesn't think it's practical for such a large and complex institution as the University System.

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"I completely understand the sponsor's rationale for introducing this bill. There is a certain kind of logic to this kind of bill," he said.

Applying it, however, would be difficult.

First of all, it would force the University System to front-load future inflation costs, which likely would lead to higher tuition bills, he said.

Also, when the system faces dramatic budget cuts as it did in 2002 and 2003, those costs would be borne disproportionately by incoming students, he said.

University of Maryland President Dan Mote said it's impossible to factor in state budget cuts of the kind that led to the recent tuition increases.

Also, the legislation does not address details such as how part-time students would be handled.

Mote said he is always trying to find ways to make tuition costs more predictable because that's one of the most common things he hears from parents and students.

McKee said the state could follow the model set by Illinois, which recently passed a similar measure.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman H. Conway, D-Eastern Shore, said he is concerned the legislation would require initial tuition increases.

The committee heard several bills calling for caps on tuition increases.

Kirwan opposed all of the bills except one that also included state funding increases for the University System.

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