Legislators must finish their budget work
By Mortimer Neufville, Ph.D. and Juliette B. Bell, Ph.D.
PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (April 24, 2012) - We support the sentiments expressed on Sunday's op-ed page in The Daily Times regarding the dire financial outlook public higher education in Maryland faces.
It is imperative for legislators and the governor to find a workable compromise on the unfinished business of funding a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. A failure to do so stands to have serious consequences for public colleges, stall the state's economic recovery and undermine a key component in Maryland's quality of life.
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is a proud member of the University System of Maryland, which lawmakers formed to be an efficient, high-caliber delivery system for post-secondary education.
UMES has benefited greatly from its affiliation with USM and we stand to be greatly impacted if the $50 million budget reduction is realized.
UMES is celebrating its 125th academic year as a strong and integral economic engine for this region and state. UMES is a cornerstone of the fragile economy of Somerset County and the Lower Shore, providing an educated workforce to support industry and a strong tax base of educated residents with a diverse array of dependable, good-paying jobs.
In the past two years alone, UMES has used its expertise to help launch or expand 13 businesses, adding 343 jobs locally by helping private-sector entrepreneurs leverage financing from the public and private sectors. Companies such as BelArt Manufacturing, MaTech, Bloosurf, Hardwire and popular craft breweries EVO and Burley Oak exist and grow because of the work in the community UMES does beyond its Princess Anne campus.
UMES is Somerset County's largest employer. A record number of students are attending and graduating from the university, including a new group of professional students pursuing doctorates in pharmacy, a health care field in great demand.
We also have plans to expand instruction in engineering, another growth field, which could be severely curtailed by a lack of resources. UMES' preeminence as USM's doctoral granting institution on the Eastern Shore would also be undermined.
We've worked hard with state leaders to keep tuition affordable, knowing that an educated Maryland will make the state more competitive nationally and globally -- and a leader in the economic recovery.
Half of the students at UMES are the first in their families to attend college. A majority come from households with modest incomes who struggle to cobble together financial packages of loans and grants to afford tuition.
A dramatic rise in tuition could force many of our students to give up their dreams of pursuing a quality education and the economic benefits an education provides. USM's goal of having 55 percent of the citizens of Maryland with a higher education degree would also be in jeopardy.
Higher education is critical to improving the state's outlook and maintaining a good quality of life. A "doomsday" budget for 2012-13, if not addressed in the next several weeks, threatens UMES' ability to continue to provide an affordable, high-quality education to the citizens of this region and to serve as an economic driver for the state.
We ask you to join us in contacting our elected state leaders and urging them to reconvene to pass a revenue budget that will provide the money needed for higher education and other critical functions.
Lawmakers can be contacted via this link: www.usmd.edu/usm/legislative_relations.
Mortimer Neufville is interim president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Juliette B. Bell will take over as president of the campus on July 1.