As Gov. Ehrlich and legislators returning to session
this week mull over spending reductions in their effort to
balance Maryland's fiscal 2005 budget, the level of
funding to the Sellinger Aid Program, through which the
state provides unrestricted monies to Johns Hopkins and 15
other independent colleges and universities, is worryingly
uncertain, according to university administration.
Adopted in the mid-1970s, the Joseph A. Sellinger
State Aid Program awards funds through a self-adjusting
formula linked to enrollments of private institutions and
to the per-student appropriations of selected four-year
public colleges and universities.
The uncertainty over next year's funding total comes
in response to a two-year period during which Sellinger has
been cut by 36 percent.
The state budget for FY 2004 included $31.5 million
for the Sellinger program. For Johns Hopkins, this
represented a $4.9 million cut from FY 2003 and a total
appropriation of $12.6 million. Last year's funding cut was
sharp enough to bring the university below its 1990
per-student appropriation level.
University administrators fear that, despite some
early assurances, the program could take another hit and
negatively impact university initiatives, including
expansion of the Montgomery County Campus. Due to last
year's cuts, the School of Engineering, for example,
scuttled imminent expansion plans that included the
implementation of new courses, certificate offerings and
programs to meet the emerging needs of businesses.
Steven Knapp, provost and senior vice president for
academic affairs, said that the vast majority of funds the
university receives come in the way of philanthropy and
research grants, nearly all of which are targeted,
restricted money. What makes the Sellinger program so
vital, he said, is that it's not targeted, and the
university can distribute it as it deems appropriate
— with portions allocated to student aid, research,
libraries and student services, among others.
"Restricted funds help us build excellent programs in
teaching and research, but we also need unrestricted funds
to create the environment in which those programs can
flourish," Knapp said. "That's why the deans see Sellinger
aid as a crucial source of funds. In our system, the
Sellinger funds go directly to the deans of the schools,
who have the best sense of where they are needed."
Knapp said that the Sellinger program funds areas that
often get overlooked by donors, like the cost of library
Bret Schreiber, Johns Hopkins' interim director of
state relations, said that the university is extremely
concerned about the state's future commitment to higher
education and, specifically, to independent higher
"We have not received a comfort level from the
governor's office and the Legislature that they truly value
the role that higher education plays, not only in providing
the continuing education needs of today's work force and
high school graduates but also the important roles that we
play as economic engines for Maryland," Schreiber said.
While only 3.5 percent of all state dollars spent on
higher education go to independent colleges and
universities, Knapp said that the return on that investment
has been many times over.
He points to the fact that Johns Hopkins operates
education, health care and research facilities in 19 of the
state's 24 counties, and the university's current annual
contribution to the economy is $7 billion, or one out of
every 28 dollars in Maryland.
"What happens to Johns Hopkins is not just affecting
Baltimore; it has a widespread effect," Knapp said.
Schreiber said that it's vital to avoid Sellinger cuts
during the current economic downturn, a time when the
university also faces low endowment payouts, decreased
giving and philanthropy and a trend of students choosing
institutions with lower tuitions.
"As we are quadruply leveraged on the economy, we
can't afford to lose any ground in any one of these areas,"
he said. "Our state support is critical to supporting our
core academic infrastructure. It provides us a means to
continue to maintain our high standards of excellence."
In a lobbying effort, senior university administration
will meet with top elected officials during the coming
weeks and months to urge them to protect Sellinger funding.
The university will also work with colleagues in private
and public colleges and universities to convince the
governor and Legislature that it is in the state's best
interest to maintain support for higher education in
In addition, the Maryland Independent College and
University Association, of which Johns Hopkins is a member,
is preparing, if necessary, to launch a grassroots,
Web-based initiative in the months of February and March to
allow MICUA constituents to learn more about key
legislative issues and to get in touch with their state
elected officials. In this case, the university will
broadcast a message to all Johns Hopkins affiliates that
outlines the situation and points them to a MICUA Web site
that will provide details on what they can do to help.
A state budget proposal will be released later this
month. The Maryland General Assembly will vote on the FY
2005 operating budget in April.
Knapp said that the state's independent college and
universities understand the need for budget discipline and
are prepared to equally share needed cuts.
"But the reality is that independent higher education
has taken a disproportionate share of the cuts already, and
it would be very hard to absorb more reductions," he