Community College Students Brace for Possible Tuition Hikes


ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 23, 2009)—Liam Evans works two jobs and relies on financial aid to afford her tuition at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville.

She doesn't know what else she can do.

"I'm already doing two jobs," said the 18-year-old freshman. "I'm going to have to pay more?"

Yes, say officials at state community colleges. Tuition hikes are likely coming.

It is the only way to offset a proposed funding freeze and combat $310 million in cuts to local aid, said Clay Whitlow, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

"We are really left with no choice," he said.

According to the fiscal year 2010 budget proposal released Wednesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley will not increase funding for community colleges and will cut aid to counties to close a $1.9 billion budget shortfall.

But while students at community colleges scramble to come up with an average of $3 to $9 more per credit hour, in-state students at four-year schools will have their tuition frozen for a fourth-straight year.

Cuts in funding are particularly hard on community colleges because they rely on state and county funds for approximately 58 percent of their revenue, said Whitlow, adding student tuition and fees account for the balance.

He said it is not easy to ask students to pay more, especially since community colleges tend to have more low-income students than universities.

"While we certainly understand the state's financial situation ... it's unfortunate at a time when the state's economy is in such bad shape our students will [bear] the burden," he said.

Pierre Haynes, a freshman at Prince George's Community College is one of those students.

"Not too many students, including myself, are financially stable because we are just getting out of high school," said Haynes. But he said he is determined to put himself through school, even if it means picking up extra hours at work, shoveling snow, mowing lawns or holding a yard sale.

Not every student will be so motivated, said Alberto Fernandez, a freshman at Howard Community College. Fernandez said an increase in tuition may discourage people from going to college, especially if they are already struggling to pay tuition.

"It's just going to turn people away from wanting to study and go to school," he said.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, agrees that a tuition increase may unfairly affect less affluent students.

"We have 120,000 Marylanders attend community colleges," he said."Many of them can't afford four-year colleges ... I think it's important for us to try to do everything we can to limit the increase in tuition at the community college level."

But as student enrollment continues to grow, while school funding does not, limiting tuition increases will be difficult, said Harford Community College President Jim LaCalle.

"Typically, when there is an economic downturn enrollment goes up," he said. "It's good" because there is more money coming in, but that also means "we need more support."

LaCalle said he has no choice but to "seriously" consider raising tuition by $3 per credit hour, bringing the cost of an hour to $80. He is not alone.

Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex, said there will be "a modest tuition increase across the college."

"We all know this is a challenging time fiscally." she said, adding she is grateful the cuts weren't deeper.

"(The governor) has always been supportive of community colleges," she said.

Shaun Adamec, an O'Malley spokesman, said that between fiscal years 2006 and 2010 "capital funding has almost doubled for community colleges,"y and that funding for community colleges in 2010 will still be the "highest ever" in Maryland. O'Malley made tough decisions while still protecting the investments his administration has made in education, Adamec said.

But Sean Mathew, a radiography major at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, said he isn't convinced that students will be protected.

"I'm sure they have reasons (for level funding our schools), but why shouldn't they have sympathy for us," he said.

Capital News Service Staff Writer Dylan Waugh contributed to this report.

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