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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 12, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 17
JHU Looks at Future of Sellinger Aid

State program is a crucial source of untargeted funds

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 materials.

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 education.

"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 Maryland.

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 said.


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