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Investing in 2054

As we approach the beginning of another legislative session, the leadership of our public colleges and universities prepare to once again advocate for the financial resources we need to educate the next generation of Maryland’s citizens. At the University of Baltimore, we use this time as an educational opportunity. The leaders of our student governments, clubs and organizations join us in Annapolis to talk with legislators, attend open sessions, and see first-hand our government in action.

In turn, and much more effectively than any university president can, these students give our elected officials a clear sense of what public investment in higher education means. Many UB students are already working, and can share how their education is enabling them to advance in their careers. Many are financing their education on their own, and can speak to the real impact of rising tuitions. Whatever their individual stories, these women and men underscore what my colleagues and I will testify to in the coming months: that the future of our state depends on providing access to affordable, high-quality public higher education for current and future generations of Marylanders.

This year, a state budget has been proposed that takes the bold step of identifying dedicated funding streams for higher education. Governor O’Malley recognizes that access to public higher education must be a right available to all, not a privilege reserved for the few. The Governor and our elected officials face the difficult task of remedying the state’s structural deficit while ensuring that key priorities, higher education among them, are supported. Clearly, some sacrifice and compromise will be required to accomplish both of these goals.

The latest U.S. Census Bureau ranks Maryland as the richest state in the nation as measured by median household income. At the same time, the state ranks 40th nationwide in higher education investment per $1000 of personal income. The disparity of those rankings indicates that a solution can be found to ensure that Maryland’s public higher education system is adequately funded, both now and in the future. The Governor’s proposed budget takes the first step towards that solution, and deserves our support.

Consider this: the 18-year old student who began at the University of Baltimore this fall will reach retirement age in the year 2054. My colleagues and I don’t even know what our next year’s budgets will be, let alone what the world will be like in the middle of the century. Yet we are committed to providing your daughters and sons, and – as lifelong learning becomes more important, your husbands and wives – with the skills that will enable them to contribute to our state today and for decades to come. Their chances for success, and their abilities to realize the world of 2054 that we cannot even imagine, will depend in large part on what we do now. Let’s not shortchange our future.