Maryland gubernatorial hopefuls suggest ways to make college more affordable

Correction: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly said that Del. Heather Mizeur graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mizeur attended the university, but did not graduate.


The statue of Testudo is believed to provide good luck to University of Maryland students during exams. (Bill O'Leary/Washington Post)

Democrats running for governor in Maryland are chiming in on a national issue that is especially popular with young voters: What can they do to make college more affordable?

As with their stances on many issues, the candidates are in agreement that elected leaders should do more to keep the cost of getting a college degree within the grasp of all Maryland students but especially those from low- and middle-income families. They also have all stated the importance of higher education in bettering the state’s economy. But they vary in their plans of actions. Here is what each candidate has proposed thus far:

Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery): In a college affordability plan released Monday morning, the Mizeur campaign promised to continue pressuring the state’s public universities and colleges to not increase their tuition by more than 3 percent each year.

But college affordability is more complicated than just tuition rates, the plan states.

In Maryland, families often have to find funds on their own to cover nearly 60 percent of tuition costs, which sometimes pushes them to tap their home equity or retirement savings or take on credit card debt. Maryland has one of the highest average rates of student loan debt. Mizeur says colleges should shift their focus to meeting more of the financial need of students with grants.

Mizeur proposes increasing state funding for need-based aid by $12 million each year. Such aid has either grown minimally or declined in recent years. The money will come from a legislative scholarship program, which allows state delegates and senators to choose financial aid recipients in their district with little oversight, the plan states. Mizeur would end that program and give its funding to the Educational Assistance Grants — a need-based aid program administered by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

She would also introduce legislation that would require colleges to spend at least half of their institutional aid on need-based scholarships instead of merit-based or athletic scholarships. The plans states that this would add another $15 million per year.

Mizeur would also create a “College Affordability for All Commission” that would study ways higher education can reform its funding model, such as a “Pay it Forward” model in which students attend school for free and then pay a percentage of their income for a set number of years after graduation. The commission would also explore ways to help former students pay off their loans.

And Mizeur would work with schools to encourage all students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which determines eligibility for financial aid. Such a program is currently underway at Coppin State University, according to the plan, and could be replicated on other campuses. Mizeur wants at least 75 percent of students to complete the application by 2022.

“This is a personal issue for me,” Mizeur, who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a statement on Monday morning. “I was the first in my family to attend college, and I know firsthand what it is like to barely scrape together tuition money every semester, never sure you are going to make it.”

Attorney General Douglas Gansler: Gansler is concerned that more than half of all Maryland high school graduates who get to college immediately need remedial assistance, wasting time and money learning or relearning things they should already know. The rate is even higher in Prince George’s County and Baltimore. The lack of preparation can also hurt students who are trying to complete a workforce training program or obtain an entry-level job.

“It’s a moral stain on our state when the majority of our public high school graduates need remedial help when they arrive at college,” Gansler said in a statement last week. “We are failing our kids, and we have to do better.”

The Gansler campaign released its “Strong Start” plan last week, which proposes asking every Maryland ninth-grade public school student to voluntarily complete a “Personal Education Plan” that details what they want to do after high school. These students would sign a contract committing to keeping a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher, not using illegal drugs or alcohol, and not committing a crime. In return, the high school officials would promise to provide regular guidance and counseling, assist with course selection and provide access to remedial education services if they are needed. Indiana has a similar program called 21st Century Scholars.

When those students reach 11th grade, they would take the state’s standardized assessment test. Those who score at college level would not have to take college placement exams at any Maryland post-secondary institution, including community colleges. Those scoring lower would receive free remedial assistance, perhaps from a local community college or an online course.

Katie Hill, a campaign spokeswoman, said that high schools should be able to find the money on their own for these remedial classes and extra assistance.

“The money that the state already provides schools should be sufficient to guarantee that they satisfy their mission,” Hill said, “which is to ensure that students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in college or in the work force.”

Gansler attended Yale University, where he played lacrosse.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown: Following in the footsteps of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Brown has promised to continue capping annual tuition increases at the state’s public universities and colleges at 3 percent through 2018. When O’Malley took office, Maryland was the 10th most-expensive state for public college tuition. After freezing tuition for four years in a row and then limiting growth in the following years, Maryland is now in the middle of the pack nationally.

Brown has praised Maryland’s universities and colleges for continuing to be highly ranked on lists of “best value” schools, even as tuition remained steady, and they were pushed to reduce other costs.

The Brown campaign has also proposed making it easier for students to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields, where there is a need for more skilled workers.

The campaign also suggests using $4 million of state funds to set up the “Dream Fund,” which would provide low-interest loans to undocumented students who often do not qualify for federal financial aid. The fund would eventually be self-sustaining as students repay their loans with interest.

In 2011, state lawmakers voted to charge in-state tuition rates to Maryland high school graduates who are the children of undocumented immigrants. That law was upheld by voters in a referendum the following year. While those students now have easier access to higher education, they still need help paying for that education, Brown has said. The law requires that students first enroll at a community college for two years.

Brown’s father, who moved to the United States from Jamaica, was the first member of his family to graduate from college. Brown said that degree “was the start of a new chapter — a chance to escape the poverty of his childhood and give back to his community.”

Brown attended Harvard University, where he joined the Army ROTC.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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