Community colleges face cuts with protest, anxiety

October 15, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien

A statement by Timothy Smith was misconstrued in an article yesterday in The Sun about budget cuts at Maryland community colleges because of an editing error. Mr. Smith, president of the Student Government Association at Cecil Community College, said there probably would be rallies at other community colleges to protest the cuts if students elsewhere realized the cuts had been approved in Annapolis.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Cuts in state aid to Maryland's community colleges prompted a protest yesterday at one college, a proposal for trimming $3 million at another and dire warnings from the president at a third.

The protest was at Cecil Community College, the cuts were proposed at Essex Community College, and the warnings came from Harford Community College President Richard Pappas.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The state Board of Public Works approved a $450 million deficit reduction package Oct. 2 that was proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and included cutting $28.7 million in aid to the state's community colleges.

Community college officials say dealing with the cuts may require tuition increases, program cuts and layoffs -- or possibly all three.

"The impact is going to be tremendous," Mr. Pappas said. "It's not something that you expect from any state government."

About 200 students demonstrated at Cecil Community College against tuition increases and program cuts at the campus in North East. Students chanted slogans and waved signs outside the school's arts and science building, said Timothy Smith, president of the college's Student Government Association.

"These cuts are devastating," said Mr. Smith, 37. "They're going to cut programs right to the bone."

He said the protest was organized to vent student frustration at state cuts that forced Cecil's board of trustees to raise the $37-per-credit-hour tuition by $6 per credit hour effective next spring.

"What I'm concerned is that there are going to be students coming out of high school who see these higher tuitions and they'll say I can't afford this, my parents can't afford this," he said.

Mr. Smith, a second-year student studying computer science and electronics, predicted similar rallies at other community colleges.

"I don't think anybody really believed that Schaefer would do this," he said.

Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery met with community college presidents and other academic officials in Annapolis Oct. 1, the day the cuts were announced.

Since then there have been few, if any, protests from the community colleges, as most administrators huddled with budget analysts to look for ways to deal with the cuts.

Community colleges officials say they are still trying to find ways to cope, but acknowledge that tuition increases and program cuts are almost certain next semester.

"Obviously we're developing a plan to deal with the situation, but we're not ready to release it yet," said Karen Adams, a Dundalk Community College spokeswoman.

But at Essex, officials yesterday released three sets of options for trimming the $3 million they must slash from their $30 million budget.

The options, slated to be decided at the board's Oct. 23 meeting, include the possibility of increasing the $39-per-credit tuition by as much as $14 per credit.

They also include furloughing the 700 employees at Essex for three days without pay, slashing $566,000 in classroom furniture, laboratory equipment and computers and saving $100,000 by shutting down the Water Quality Laboratory, which tests the quality of water in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Essex also may save $225,000 by canceling the free courses offered for 600 seniors at senior citizen centers around the county, said Donald J. Slowinski, college president.

"Right now, everything's on the table," Mr. Slowinski said.

Students at the school said the cuts make it more difficult to get excited about their educations.

"It's like the government is imposing an inferiority complex on us," said Jeffrey Walter, 19, a student from Essex.

Administrators said yesterday that the state aid cuts hit at a time when community colleges can least afford them because of increased enrollments and operating costs.

At Harford Community College, for example, enrollments have gone up between 7 and 10 percent in each of the last three years, for a current enrollment of 5,400 credit students and 12,000 non-credit students, said Mr. Pappas.

He said the Harford Community College has no choice but to raise tuition and cut programs. The college was ordered to cut $1.5 million from its $14.6 million budget.

He said that it is "going to be impossible" to avoid layoffs next year among the college's 230 full-time administrators, faculty and clerical staff. He also may increase tuition roughly $6 to $13 effective in January and may cut programs and courses for the 12,000 senior citizens now served by the college.

"The irony of this is that as the universities have had to raise their tuitions, students are turning to the community colleges as an affordable alternative," Mr. Pappas said. "Now, we'll have to ask ourselves to look at what our missions are, what type of institutions are we going to be."

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