Volume: 5 Number: 141_friday
December 17, 2004
A Conversation with William E. Kirwan
By MARK R. CHESHIRE
Editor in Chief of the Daily Record
Copied with Permission of The Daily Record
As head of Maryland’s 13 public universities and
research centers, William E. Kirwan has had the unenviable job in
recent years of balancing the higher education system’s financial
books amid dramatic state funding cuts and equally dramatic
increases in enrollment and costs.
He’s done so by cutting thousands
of jobs and hiking tuition, among other things. But despite these
big and painful changes, financial trouble still looms ahead for
Kirwan and the University System of Maryland, which he leads as
To remain the powerful economic
engine it is, the system needs more help from the state, Kirwan said
this week during an exclusive interview with The Daily Record. Even
if you don’t have children headed for a Maryland college, the future
of these schools, Kirwan makes clear, matters to you more than you
Address the changing role of
higher education relative to our changing economy.
Photo by Eric
… What I think has become pretty clear in people’s
minds — not just in Maryland, but across the country — is the
importance of higher education in the world we’re going to be living
in. When I was growing up, there used to be two paths one could
follow. You could get a high school degree, go work in some sort of
manufacturing job, make a darn good salary, have a good quality of
life and live happily ever after. Or you could go to college and
follow some professional path.
That first path is increasingly not an option for
young people. Point one is: There is this general understanding that
if a person, region or state is going to be successful, then there
have got to be opportunities for people to go to college.
The second thing is we don’t have the traditional
manufacturing jobs to the extent we did. Just look at what happened
in Baltimore with the closing of the General Motors plant. That’s
just an exhibit of a national decline in tradition manufacturing
The other thing is the U.S. niche in the world of
today and tomorrow is value added through knowledge and creativity
and innovation. The role of universities in fueling that spirit has
become a very important dynamic in our society. It’s not surprising
that when you look at those regions in the country that are
successful, they are … in the presence of high-quality universities.
That’s a pattern.
After spending 34 years here in Maryland, I went to
Ohio for four years before coming back to Maryland. The experience
in Ohio is [shared] by a lot of the Midwest. They are really in deep
economic trouble because their economy is built on the old-line
manufacturing. They really haven’t developed a knowledge economy, as
we see in many states along the East Coast and West Coast and to
some extent in the South.
Any time we talk about higher education and what’s
happening with higher education, we have to recognize that its role
in society has never been as important as it is right now. Quite
frankly, as important as it is now, it’s only going to increase as
we go forward.
What about Maryland and these
Maryland is blessed. We have developed what I call a
winning hand. Maybe people will find this surprising, but we have
the most educated work force in America — the highest percentage of
bachelor’s degrees, the highest percentage of professional degrees.
We are No. 1 in the nation in [research and development]
expenditures per capita. … Amazingly, we’re No. 2 in actual volume
of R&D. In this knowledge age where creativity and innovation
are the drivers, Maryland has been sitting pretty.
But I’m very worried that we could be on the verge of
losing our competitive edge, basically for two reasons. First of
all, because of the state’s economy and the absence of any agreement
on revenue, the state has not been able to sustain its investments
in higher education. We were cut a few years ago. We lost 14 percent
of our general fund support. We’ve recouped a little of that since
then. We’re 12.5 percent down from our high point in 2002.
On top of this challenge, we’re at the leading edge of
enrollment surge in our state. It’s the so-called baby boom
echo. Now this is uneven across the country. Maryland is one of
those states that will see a great impact from the echo. We
anticipate during the next eight or nine years an increase of
between 25 percent and 30 percent in enrollment demand — Marylanders
wanting to come to our schools.
We are well positioned right now. But we are, I think,
at risk of impacting the quality of our institutions by the
inability to invest in them, by compromising access and
affordability because of the consequent increases in tuition that
We’ve raised tuition — and I’m not proud of this —
over 30 percent since 2002. Our institutions are, in some sense, a
bargain, but the rate of increase is just too high. Students have a
right when they go to school to plan for [what it’s going to cost].
Nobody could have planned, I don’t think, for a 30 percent increase.
What has the system done in
recent times to respond to financial and enrollment
As we came into the downturn of the economy and the
budget cuts, we quite naturally reduced expenditures. We eliminated
about 5 percent of the work force in the system.
What’s the rough number of
employees [whose positions were cut]?
Between 4 and 5 percent of positions across the
We reduced expenditures. We did things that, quite
frankly, have begun to impact the quality of our institutions —
reduced library hours, reduced advising, cut out all sorts of
services; people didn’t get raises. All of this is starting to take
a toll. We’re beginning to lose faculty, and it’s very troubling. We
pride ourselves on the fact that during the last 10, 15 years we’ve
been a net importer of star faculty. The last several years we’ve
lost more than we recruited.
Is it just a matter of
I think it’s a lot of factors. It’s salary, for sure.
But … also since we’ve been cutting support, faculty and students
are going to go where they feel like they’ve got the infrastructure
so they can do their work and complete their studies in a really
rich educational environment. The reductions we’ve had to make have
begun to impact the infrastructure. That’s very troubling
Just to quantify something that gives a sense of how
we’ve dealt with this: We had a $120 million budget cut, and we had
another $100 million to $150 million in mandated cost increases —
things like health care that we just had to pay for out of our
existing budget. We’ve had huge increases in utilities.
… When you add all this together, you’re talking about
$250 million we’ve had to deal with during the last several years …
. We’ve done two things. We’ve reduced expenditures by eliminating
positions, and we’ve
raised tuition. Tuition has covered about 38 percent of the
budget hole. Expenditure reductions and position eliminations have
covered about 62 percent. So we haven’t just passed our problem on
to the student. We’ve tried to do this in a way that buffers the
student. As high as increases have been, we’ve tried to avoid even
higher tuition increases.
University System of
System of Maryland includes 11 universities and two research
centers. They are:
Bowie State University
Coppin State University
Frostburg State University
University of Baltimore
University of Maryland, Baltimore
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
University of Maryland University College
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
University of Maryland Biotechnology
We’ve been through this over the last several years.
The board, the chancellor, and the presidents said we can’t keep
doing this year to year, just patching things through. We’ve got to
make some strategic decisions so we can do our share, do our part,
to protect the three pillars of our existence: quality,
affordability and accessibility. That’s what we’re about. The
regents formed an effectiveness an efficiency initiative, a
workgroup of regents working closely with me and others throughout
the system. We brought in a consultant, Accenture. What we did was
look at our situation in a more strategic way. How can we make some
intelligent, strategic, long-term decisions to do whatever we can
within our resources to protect our trinity of goals?
The effectiveness and efficiency intiatives fall into
two categories: administrative and academic initiatives. The
academic initiatives are all about building capacity. I told you
about this enrollment surge. What can we do with our own resources
to take in more students? … We’re taking some pretty dramatic steps.
We’re asking the faculty to teach more, to put more
emphasis on teaching so we’ll have more classroom availability to
serve these students. We’re 120 as the standard number of credits
required for an undergraduate degree, with appropriate exceptions
such as accreditation. We’re expecting students to earn credits
outside the classroom — advanced placement credit, study abroad,
internships, all of which are available, but we’re expecting
students will earn at least 12 credits outside the classroom. Again,
that gives us more capacity. With all of these rolled together — we
feel and we’ve committed to the state — we can [handle] during the
next three years about 25 percent of the increased enrollment demand
without asking the state for any additional funds.
What we can’t do without additional support is take
the other 75 percent. The state has got to do its part.
What’s the status of these
We’re implementing these recommendations.
On the administrative side, which is all about
reducing costs, we’re doing a number of things like strategic
outsourcing, purchasing as a system. We’ve done that episodically in
the past. We’re going to do it in a systematic way to reduce our
expenditures. We’re going to … buy energy as a consortium. We’re
going to eliminate some of the back-room operations. We can create
centers of activity that take some of the cost out of the
administrative structure. This will contribute about $17 million to
our budget situation for next year.
How many people work at the
13-institution University System of Maryland?
19,000 faculty and staff.
… I want to say, and I’m probably jumping ahead on
your questions, … what I find heartening is that there is no
question that the governor wants to support higher education. He has
said all fall that we’re off the table for any further cuts. He’s
instructed his budget secretary to find money to invest in our
universities. He’s even now committed to giving us [in Ehrlich’s
words] a “bump” in our funding.
The governor understands that he needs to invest in
higher education. The General Assembly has also been very emphatic
about the importance of higher education and their desire to invest
in higher education. What we don’t have is an agreement on revenue
to invest in higher education. I’m an optimistic person. I take a
lot of heart in the fact that our leadership realizes this needs to
be done. I just have to believe they’re going to find a way to do
The governor earlier this year
vetoed a bill that would have capped tuition increases and financed
the cap with an increase in the corporate tax. The legislature
appears very close to having the numbers to override that veto.
Where do you stand on this bill?
My response to that is very simple. I feel it is my
role and responsibility to identify what our needs are and within
the resources available to help create the strongest possible system
of education. … I cannot cross the boundary and get into the policy
issue of where the revenue comes from. That’s what our elected
officials are there for.
The popularity of online
education seems to be surging. Talk, if you will, about the role of
online education in Maryland.
One of our great assets — I call it our secret weapon
— is University College [one of the University System of Maryland’s
13 institutions]. They are the world leader in online education.
That’s going to become such a dominant part of the educational
… I think it’s several sociological phenomena coming
together to drive the demand for online education. We’re raising
generations that are very comfortable operating in the IT world. The
people who know the most about it are the youngest.
Second, you’ve got people who are living unbelievably
hectic lives. … So many people are looking for educational
opportunities on their terms, when they can get it. Online education
… is the most rapidly growing sector of higher education.
What have I
One other thing we’ve done that I’m very proud of is …
we just issued a report on financial aid. I and others were very
alarmed by the
rising tuition and the impact on those at the lower end of
the economic ladder.
Maryland [the state, not the university system] does
not have a very good record in terms of providing need-based
financial aid. We have about $80 million of financial aid at this
level. Only about half of it, $40 million, goes for need-based aid
at the state level. If you looked at most other states, it’s 65
percent, 70 percent that goes to need. [The other half of Maryland
aid goes to merit aid recipients of various types].
A study a few years ago showed Maryland ranked 34th in
its ability to address need-based student aid. We’re one of the
wealthiest states in the country, and yet we don’t do a good job in
supporting our neediest students. That’s not a very good place for
us to be. For all of these reasons, I put together a financial aid
task force to take a hard look at what we’re doing. … They wrote an
excellent report that was just approved by the board of regents.
It sets an expectation for our institutions that going
forward we’re going to put a much greater emphasis on need-based
aid. One of the disturbing things that came out of the report is
that our poorest students graduate with the highest average debt.
That’s become such an impediment for low-income students to go to
college, which is really their lifeline to a better economic
We’ve got to do a better job in this area as a system
and as a state. One of the recommendations that captures the spirit
of the report is that by a date certain … the neediest students will
graduate with debt that’s at least 25 percent below the average.
That’s going to be a huge shift of financial aid in support of our
Read the Daily Record editorial
Contact: Anne Moultrie