These are tough times for higher education, facing over $100 million in state budget cuts so far this year. Yet even with all these cutbacks, the state's public four-year and two-year colleges are still surprisingly affordable. The best buy in town remains Maryland's 19 community colleges.
Take, for instance, Essex Community College, which occupies a sprawling campus adjacent to Franklin Square Hospital. Essex is one of the largest community colleges in the state, with an enrollment this fall of 10,000 students concentrating on the liberal arts and health-care fields. Faced with a $3 million cut in state aid, the college may have to raise tuition credit fees, furlough workers for three days, cancel January mini-courses, impose a parking fee, close its two off-campus centers and cancel its free courses for seniors.
Yet Essex continues to offer the lowest cost per student of any college in the state. That is appealing to students who cannot afford more expensive schooling and those seeking new job skills. The average age of an Essex student is 30. Half are over 25. Half are female. This is typical of the state's community colleges, which are educational meccas for "non-traditional" /^ students.