Community Colleges, Students Caught in Recession's Grip - Southern Maryland Headline News

Community Colleges, Students Caught in Recession's Grip

Commentary by State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)

(July 15, 2009) The recession has created new patterns in higher education that has students requesting more financial aid, private four-year colleges admitting students from their waiting lists to meet enrollment targets, and students by the tens of thousands seeking admission to community colleges.

The nation's 1,200 Community colleges are the backbone of higher education. According the American Association of Community Colleges, these low-cost two-year institutions educate almost half of the undergraduate students in the nation. They provide initial college education for the majority of blacks and Hispanics. In Maryland, 47% of the state's higher education students are enrolled in community colleges, yet the state does not allocate sufficient capital construction funds to keep pace with enrollment growth, which has begun to spike.

Under Maryland's funding formula, the state's 16 community colleges are supposed to receive $50 million in new money for fiscal 2010, which began July 1. Originally, the O'Malley Administration was considering cutting state aid to community colleges. The $3.8 billion stimulus money made the cut unnecessary. While the colleges did not receive the $50 million, they did get $7 million. Of course, something is better than nothing, but it hardly enables the colleges to operate effectively in a climate of tremendous stress, when greater numbers of students are seeking admission.

For many of the neediest students, community colleges are the only way to obtain a college education. For the unemployed, community colleges offer a way to learn new and more marketable skills. The community colleges play a vital role in job training. In this role, they offer one significant way to help men and women whose unemployment is a direct result of the recession. Instead, the recession and its ramifications of too little government funding for the colleges and too many people seeking to enter the colleges, stands in the way of job training at the colleges.

For the first time, some Maryland community colleges will be forced to turn students away. Montgomery College officials stated that some students will not be able to attend this fall. Applications for financial aid are up 20%, but state student financial aid to colleges has not increased. The colleges' inability to fulfill every student's financial or scheduling needs shuts the community college door in their faces.

Miami Dade College, the nation's largest community college recently announced that it is capping student enrollment at the current 167,000 students. Deep budget cuts by the Florida legislature have, for the first time, made this move necessary. At least 5,000 students will be unable to enroll in any classes this fall. And at least 30,000 additional students will not be able to take the classes necessary for their graduation.

The community colleges' inability to expand classes and student enrollment and the omni-present threat of insufficient funds continues as greater numbers of students seek entrance. The dilemma has all the makings of a perfect storm in higher education. The state's commitment to higher education is under attack by the recession economy.

The CSM is one of the greatest economic assets for our region!

I have received the below letter from President Bradley M. Gottfried, President of the College of Southern Maryland.

June 25, 2009

The Honorable Roy Dyson
P.O. Box 229
Great Mills, MD 20634-0229

Dear Senator Dyson:

You have been such a strong proponent of the College of Southern Maryland and I am convinced that your actions played a large role in securing additional funding for us in FY '10, when the Governor initially was gong to flat fund us at lower than FY '09 levels.

We will receive a 3.2 increase in FY '10 from the state. This means a $350,000 increase. Because of our growing enrollment, and increases in fixed costs, such as healthcare and utilities, we needed an additional $550,000 from the state to freeze tuition. This figure truly represents a "bare-bones" budget.

Because of the shortfall, and the distinct possibility that all or part of the increase will be recalled by the state, CSM's Board of Trustees has voted to increase tuition by $2 per credit in FY '10. This is a 2% increase. The increase would have been $5 per credit without the increase of state funding. We do not believe that a full-time student carrying 24 credits over the course of the year will be materially impacted by the $48 increase in tuition, but we are increasing the amount of funds available for student aid.

I am sending you this letter, Senator Dyson, because I do not want you to feel that we have betrayed your trust. Your actions have had a major impact on mitigating the tuition increase.

On behalf of the students and staff of CSM, I want to thank you again for your ongoing support.


Bradley M. Gottfried, President

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