Update from Student Trustee Alex Walls

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Dear St. Mary’s Community,

As the Feb. 23 Board of Trustee Meeting quietly approaches, I would like to take the time to talk about what will be happening this weekend. Among other conversations regarding Master Planning and Strategic Planning, the Board will be setting tuition, room, and board rates for the next academic year. The scheduled rate increases that will be discussed and voted on are 4%, 3%, and 2% respectively.

For many, these annual increases are unacceptable. Every year, we pay more in tuition while we are promised that next year will be better. Yes, prices do increase. However, tuition has been increasing faster than inflation since I have started attending. And every year, it gets harder for our students and their families to pay the cost of attendance. How many students have missed out on experiencing St. Mary’s because of the ever increasing price tag? How many friends and peers have we lost because of their inability to pay to stay? I don’t know; no one does!

For the past four years, I have been vocal about my disdain for these increases. However, as Student Trustee, I will be voting “aye” on this issue at the next meeting. Why the change of heart? Currently in Annapolis, Senate Bill 828, also known as An Act Concerning St. Mary’s College of Maryland – Tuition Freeze and DeSousa-Brent Scholars Completion Grant, is poised to be voted on and approved by the General Assembly this session. This bill, among other things, would increase our state-funded block grant by an additional $800,000 each year for the next four years and mandate a tuition freeze on all in-state students. This freeze would be similar to the tuition freeze that the rest of the University System enjoyed a few years ago.

Even though this bill mandates a tuition freeze, the school will not know the outcome until April and after the budget process is completed. If it passes, the Board of Trustees will retroactively decrease the tuition for in-state students for next fall. But to demonstrate to the state that we need the funds, we must continue going through the motions of raising tuition. If we don’t, the College may miss out on the additional funding offered. Therefore, it would be advantageous for the Board to vote on raising tuition now and bringing it down later after we receive the appropriations from the state.

But mark my words, I will continue to advocate for the students of St. Mary’s. On Saturday, I will let the Board know that I am voting for the increase for the sole reason to demonstrate to the State that we need the buy down. I believe that the Board should vote to decrease tuition at the next Board meeting, even if we don’t receive the additional funds. We have suffered too many increases over the past few years and at some point we must say enough is enough. If we cannot control our costs, what does that say about our financial model or about the public-private relationship we have developed here? Should we continue on the path of becoming a high price, quasi-private liberal arts college hidden behind a public name?

The SGA and Office of Student Activities are organizing vans to take students to the meeting this Saturday in Annapolis. More details will be coming out as the week progresses so stay tuned. Also, if you want to talk to me about the Board meeting, please contact me at atwalls@smcm.edu.

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