January 6, 2013

The Post’s Dec. 29 news story “Md.’s tuition hikes lowest” noted that Maryland’s public universities have had the lowest tuition increases in the nation for the past five years. This is good for Marylanders.

What the article did not fully explain is how this occurred. When Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) assumed office in 2007, Maryland’s public universities had the nation’s sixth-highest tuition. Mr. O’Malley made college affordability one of his top priorities.

Over the past six years, the University System of Maryland has submitted tuition increases that cumulatively total 27 percent. Rather than accept them, Mr. O’Malley and the General Assembly have invested more than $72 million to, in effect, “buy down” these increases to a cumulative 9 percent. As a result, tuition has fallen to 26th-highest, a remarkable achievement. This state investment has enabled our universities to protect and even advance their quality.

Today, state support for Maryland’s universities is higher than it was in 2008, a claim few other state systems can make.

William E. Kirwan, Adelphi

The writer is chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

In his Jan. 4 Washington Forum column, “Investing colleges in their students,” Andres Pinter called attention to the mounting student debts and high unemployment rates besetting recent university graduates. He held that the academy should train for the marketplace and “get up to speed with the for-profit world.”

Mr. Pinter was right to say that universities must do more to respect the legitimate job needs of their students, but he failed to note what employers want. According to the latest surveys by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, recruiters are most interested in critical thinking, analytical ability, teamwork, and proficiency in writing and oral communication, as well as applied job skills.

Arguably, higher education has always been instrumental, but toward what ends? In the American tradition of liberal arts, it is primarily for cultivating democratic citizenship and habits of the mind. In a knowledge-based economy, this is the way to meet the challenges of Mr. Pinter’s “real world.”

James H. Mittelman, Washington

The writer is a professor of international affairs at American University’s School of International Service.