Broad revisions in the state funding formula for community colleges -- including a funding increase of almost 10 percent and special assistance to colleges in poor counties -- are being eyed by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Commission members will consider the funding proposal Oct. 31. If they approve it, the changes would require legislation from the General Assembly when it convenes in January.
In addition to providing $8.5 million in extra state funding for the 16 community colleges next year, the proposal would tie county funding to community colleges to one of two things: assessed property values in each county or to increases in state revenues.
The counties currently fund the two-year community colleges in their areas on the basis of enrollment statistics.
"We want to make funding proportionate to state growth," said Ronald Phipps, assistant secretary of higher education. "The colleges can be assured of funding because of state growth."
Phipps said that commission members want to boost state funding for community colleges in order to slow the rate of the college tuition increases. Tuition at Maryland's community colleges is among the highest in the nation.
One way the commission might be able to monitor community college spending, Phipps said, would be to allocate 70 percent of state aid to fixed costs such as pre-approved salaries, college operations and maintenance.
The new plan carries an across-the-board funding increase of 5 percent for each institution. Community colleges in the wealthier counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery would receive more than $1 million in additional operating funds each under the new plan.
Colleges in Allegany, Cecil, and Garrett counties and Hagerstown Junior College would get an additional $117,926 "wealth factor" allowance because they are located in poor counties.
And smaller community colleges in Allegany, Cecil, ChesapeakeGarrett and Worcester counties would receive an additional $377,363 each for "size factor" allowance.
Maryland's 16 community colleges enrolled 71,299 full-time students this fall.
Phipps said the need for a new funding formula grew from a confusion over the existing formula that in the past has caused territorial skirmishes between the college trustees and administrators from the wealthy and poor counties and their representatives in the General Assembly.
"The major purpose of this [new proposal] is to reduce tuition growth," Phipps said. "These are sweeping changes with a small 's'. It's a heck of a lot of differences and the major difference is we are clear about sharing a partnership between state and county. That is a very important issue."
In 1989, the legislature increased the state's annual contribution to community colleges by $9 million as a way to hold down tuition costs.