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Incoming University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert L. Caret has been on a listening tour in the state. He starts his new job in July. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Incoming USM chancellor to ‘fight hard’ for low tuition

When Robert L. Caret assumes his new role as chancellor of the University System of Maryland in July, he won’t be starting from square one.

Not only is Caret already familiar with USM institutions and Maryland politics — thanks to a previous gig as president of Towson University — he’s spent the past few weeks brushing up on local news and refreshing old relationships.

“I have a long history here,” Caret said in an interview Friday. “I know a lot of people, I’m familiar with the issues here.”

Caret, who is currently president of the University of Massachusetts, has traveled to Maryland a handful of times over the past few weeks, meeting with legislators one day, business leaders on another and presidents of USM institutions the next.

The incoming chancellor said he’s spent a lot of time listening to the issues people say are important in higher education right now. Chief among them: college completion rates, the handling of on-campus sexual assaults — and, of course, tuition and other budget issues.

One person he hasn’t yet met for lunch: Gov. Larry Hogan.

It’s not for lack of interest — Hogan has been busy, after all. His inauguration was Wednesday, and he released his first budget Thursday.

That budget included $1.3 billion for the University System of Maryland, an increase of $15.4 million, or 1.3 percent, compared to the current budget.

So far, that bodes well for Hogan’s future willingness to work with USM officials, Caret said.

Although Caret said he had a good relationship with the administration of former Gov. Martin O’Malley, he’s looking forward to working with Hogan, who he said will “likely look at the budget through a slightly different lens.”

Caret already knows several members of Hogan’s cabinet, including R. Michael Gill, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, and he said he hopes to set up a meeting with the governor sometime soon.

“A lot of what happens in life is the result of mutual trust, mutual respect and a mutual desire to help,” he said. “But relationships take time.”

Those relationships will be valuable to Caret as he tries to convince the state’s decision-makers to keep supporting higher education.

In Massachusetts, Caret was celebrated for persuading the state to contribute more toward the cost of an education at UMass, which includes five campuses. He successfully pursued a 50-50 match, whereby the state splits the cost equally with UMass students, which allowed the university to freeze tuition for two years.

When Caret arrived at UMass in 2011, he said the state paid about 42 percent of the cost. For comparison, when Caret attended UMass, the state paid nearly 70 percent of the cost, he said.

In Maryland, the split is pretty close to 50-50, he added.

Caret — who grew up in a blue-collar Maine family and worked his way through college — knows student loan debt won’t be totally eradicated, but he said he’ll “fight hard to minimize it.”

So, how much debt is too much?

“It shouldn’t be enough to buy a Porsche,” he quipped. “Maybe a Ford Focus — something more at that level.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.