Officials of Maryland's public university system will unveil a plan this week to save more than $26 million next fiscal year to help stave off what the system's chancellor has called a potential fiscal crisis of rising costs and declining state support.
The "Effectiveness and Efficiency" initiative will be formally presented in a report to the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents on Friday. It comes as system officials are asking Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to restore some of the more than $120 million cut from the system's budget over the past two years.
University officials said that they have been told that Ehrlich has given priority to finding additional funds for the system and that they are deferring a decision on the size of a tuition increase while awaiting Ehrlich's budget.
The savings plan, which Chancellor William E. Kirwan called highly unusual, includes measures to reduce the time for students to graduate. One such proposal would make more classes available each year by requiring faculty members to teach more courses.
The impact of the state-imposed cuts has been compounded by a jump in enrollment during the past two years at the system's 11 campuses by the equivalent of more than 5,000 full-time students.
That increase, along with rising outlays for fuel, health insurance and other mandatory expenses, increased the system's costs by about $100 million.
System administrators coped by slashing about 700 positions and increasing tuition as much as 32 percent at some institutions. In-state tuition and fees at the flagship campus, the University of Maryland at College Park, have reached $7,410, and Maryland's public college tuition rates are among the nation's highest.
Now, with an additional 10,000 students expected to enter during the next three years and mandatory costs expected to rise still further, Kirwan is warning that potential disaster looms.
"It's a perfect storm of rising demand and decreasing supply of funding. And trying to maintain quality while keeping education affordable is an impossible balancing act," he said in an interview yesterday.
The savings plan, developed in a 15-month, top-to-bottom review of system policies and practices by Accenture, a consulting firm, would offset only part of the impending cost increases.
For instance, while the plan would save about $9.5 million in academic and student support costs during the next fiscal year, enrollment increases are expected to raise costs by four to five times that amount.
Similarly, the plan will save about $17.1 million in administrative costs, but mandatory administrative costs are expected to rise by five times that amount.
Still, Kirwan said that by undertaking the efficiency initiative, the system has demonstrated its commitment to containing tuition increases while preserving quality.
"What we've done here is totally outside the norm," he said. "This has been an exhaustive examination of all the processes involved in conducting our business to come up with a comprehensive and impressive effect."
Among steps embodied in the plan is making greater use of online learning, thus saving campus resources. The plan also calls for increasing the capacity at such "comprehensive" schools as Bowie State University, which have a lower per-student cost than research institutions such as U-Md. at College Park.