May 19, 2005

Dear USM Faculty and Staff:

This season of commencements brings another academic year to an end. As we celebrate the achievements of thousands of graduates who have been nurtured in our classrooms and laboratories, and in other learning environments, it also is a time to celebrate the academic, research, and service quality of our institutions. Thanks to your dedication and excellence, the reputation and impact of the University System of Maryland continue to rise.

We also have something else to celebrate this yearthe renewed support the university system is enjoying from the state. During the 2005 legislative session, the General Assembly approved Gov. Ehrlich's proposed increase in state funds supporting the university system's $3.3-billion operating budget for fiscal year 2006. The university system will receive about $800 million in state funds in FY 2006, a nearly six percent increase over the FY 2005 level.

In announcing the increase in January, Gov. Ehrlich cited his commitment to ensuring that qualified Marylanders have access to excellent and affordable higher education. Sharing this commitment, the legislators also lauded the progress of our Effectiveness and Efficiency efforts.

Thanks to the FY 2006 state support, we are able to moderate tuition increases (after two years of double-digit increases), cover mandatory costs, provide COLA and merit raises, fund modest enrollment growth, and invest in initiatives to advance quality.

Some of our success in Annapolis this year is due to the strong support we received from the region's leading business groups, including the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has even appointed a special task force to work toward better support for higher education. These groups all understand that our state's economic future and the quality of life we enjoy in Maryland depend on a high-quality, affordable, and accessible system of higher education.

Our innovation in extending access to our academic programs through regional centers also is bringing widespread support. Our first such center, the Universities at Shady Grove, is poised to grow with new funding for a third classroom building. And earlier this year, we opened the doors to our second center, the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown. Various USM institutions are offering programs at these centers to meet both regional and statewide workforce needs.

The support for Maryland higher education demonstrated by Gov. Ehrlich, the General Assembly, and the business community bodes well for USM in the years ahead. Clearly they share our primary goal to provide affordable access to excellent programs and services for our students and for Marylanders.

Our Effectiveness and Efficiency Program continues to move forward. The Board of Regents has approved three academic policies to help students graduate in a more timely manner. Contrary to some news articles about the 120-credit policy, the policy will not limit undergraduate students to taking only 120 credits; rather, it sets 120 as the standard number of credits required for a bachelor's degree program, with appropriate exceptions.

Implementation of these new policies will lead to even better student advising and will enable students and their families to save money. The policies also will help the university system meet its increasing enrollment demand.

On the administrative side, we are taking full advantage of our system structure. For example, we're working to leverage USM's collective buying power by procuring electricity as a system, rather than as individual institutions. We anticipate that this approach will yield significant savings over the next several years, savings that can fund further enhancement of our academic programs.

I cannot emphasize enough that the high quality of your work strengthens our case for increased state support. In addition, the work of the system's many faculty, staff, and student shared-governance councils, both during the legislative sessions and year-round, helps the system tremendously.

Though the increase in support for fiscal year 2006 is very much appreciated, we must continue our work together to ensure that this is only the beginning of the state's long-term reinvestment in Maryland higher education. We also must continue to work with the Governor, the General Assembly, the business community, and our alumni and friends to ensure that the University System of Maryland has the resources to support excellence, affordability, and accessibility in the challenging years ahead.

Again, I thank you for all you are doing to advance the quality of our system institutions and I wish you a very pleasant and productive summer.



William E. Kirwan,