Community Colleges: The Backbone of Higher Education - Southern Maryland Headline News

Community Colleges: The Backbone of Higher Education

By State Sen. Roy Dyson (D-29th)

Community Colleges, which began as stepchildren of higher education, have become the backbone of higher education.

Today, community colleges are a lower cost alternative to getting started in higher education. They have become a way for low and middle income families to afford college for their children. Increasingly, the unemployed look to community colleges as a way to learn new and more marketable skills. Community colleges are part of the answer to addressing the continuing and deepening nursing shortage. The business community looks to community colleges as a significant source of skilled labor.

In 2007, the National Governors Association asked four-year colleges and universities to replicate the responsiveness to regional economic needs that has been standard practice at community colleges.

The news that Governor O'Malley, who is a strong advocate for education, was considering cutting state aid to community colleges was as incomprehensible as it was upsetting. Community colleges had faced an $8 million cut in the current fiscal budget, but the Governor reversed course in January because of the likely arrival of federal stimulus funds.

I have written to the Governor urging him not to cut $50 million from state aid to 15 of the 16 community colleges in his FY 2010 budget which will be up for consideration by the current General Assembly session. He has held out hope that stimulus money would make the cut unnecessary. We now know for certain that Maryland will receive $3.8 billion from the stimulus aid.

A cut of $50 million from the community college budget would result in course reductions and a 3% to 9% tuition increase in FY 2010, which begins July 1. In an increasingly difficult economy, the students who need it the most will find the doors of Maryland's community colleges shut in their faces.

I commend the Governor for freezing tuition for the fourth consecutive at the University of Maryland's institutions and at Morgan State University. I believe that the Governor is committed to keeping education affordable for Maryland families. But to freeze tuition at four-year colleges and cut funds to community colleges is tantamount to taking one step forward and two steps backward.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has unveiled a plan to provide community college free to all state residents within 10 years. New Jersey students who graduate in the top 20% of their high school class pay no community college tuition. Indiana provides full community college tuition to students, who beginning in grade 8, maintain a 2.0 grade point average and stay away from drugs and alcohol.

These states are marching in the right direction. In my letter to the Governor, I said that I am hopeful that with the assurance of stimulus money, you will not cut state aid to community colleges, but rather use those stimulus funds to restore substantial capital and operating money to our community colleges and consider giving them a state tuition freeze as well.

Now, more than ever before, investment in Maryland's community colleges will give the State and its citizens the biggest bank for the buck.

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