The economy had already done a number on John Batson.
The 50-year-old former field service engineer was left jobless when his company downsized its Columbia operations last summer.
Batson responded by doing what people in his situation
are supposed to do -- he enrolled at Howard Community College to learn a new skill. But now the Columbia resident fears another setback, as the deficit-burdened state reduces the amount it contributes to community colleges.
He wonders whether HCC will try to make up for the loss by raising tuition. That, he says, would make it more difficult for people such as himself to afford the cost of retooling their skills to meet the needs of high-tech industries.
HCC is among the 27 Maryland community colleges facing belt-tightening and higher tuition at a time when enrollment is peaking.
HCC President Dwight A. Burrill said yesterday that proposals to increase tuition by $5 to $15 per hour could go before the school's trustees tonight when they decide how to deal with the budget gap. Tuition now is $47 per credit hour.
Batson and other students were despondent last week as school officials suggested the possibility of raising tuition.
"I don't want unemployment, I don't want welfare," said Batson, whose birth defect requires him to use a cane to walk around campus. He had worked 20 years at GenRad Inc., a Massachusetts electronics firm, and was a field service engineer when the company closed its Columbia regional center.
"It's especially hard for someone who is my age, has a handicap and hasn't got a degree," he said. "So I'm up the creek and trying to get a paddle. They're making it harder to get a paddle."
Maryland's two-year schools enrolled a record 266,883 students this fall -- an increase of 4.2 percent over last year, in part to retrain laid-off workers. Those schools are sharing a $28.7 million cut in state funding.
With that reduction, the state is contributing less to community colleges this year than it did in fiscal 1989, says Sue Dowden, associate executive director of the Maryland State Board for Community Colleges. The state provided $94.3 million to the two-year schools that year, compared with $86.9 million in fiscal 1992 after the cut.
Those figures do not include the New Community College of Baltimore, which was taken over by the state July 1. President James D. Tschechtelin recently announced plans to discontinue NCCB's mass communications program to help make up for the loss of $1 million from the state this year, said spokesman Herbert Sledge.
In recent years, the state has provided a declining percentage of the operating budgets for community colleges. In fiscal 1988, the state's share was 37 percent; in fiscal 1991, it was 35 percent.
"Since the late '70s, the state has not funded community colleges in a way that's kept up with inflation," says Howard's Burrill. "Counties have had to pick that up, and tuition has had to pick that up."
"What we're facing now is the necessity to re-examine how community colleges in the state are funded," says Randy Bengfort, a spokesman for Howard Community College. "Support from the state is steadily declining. What's happening now is not really new, but it's hastening a process that's already taking place."
Anne Arundel Community College saw its enrollment peak this year. The college also suffered a loss of $3.1 million from its total operating budget of $30 million, says spokeswoman Theone Relos. The fall semester head count of full-time and part-time students totaled 12,401, according to figures released last week.
"The cuts have put us between a rock and a hard place," says Relos, adding that the student population has grown by more than 16 percent in the past five years. "We're getting reduced revenue from the state, and we're serving more and more students."
"This was the low year of the high school graduates. And by that I mean this was the class with the least amount of graduates according to demographers. Even with that, we're still bulging," she added.
Baltimore County's three community colleges -- in Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk -- lost a combined $7.5 million in state funds, 10 percent of their budget, a spokeswoman says.
The trustees of the colleges canceled a meeting scheduled for tonight because they could not agree on tuition increases and other steps to cover the loss.
"We require additional time to assess the potential impact of these cuts more thoroughly and determine the most equitable way of distributing the cuts among those who will be directly affected by them before we take action," John Q. Kluttz 3rd, the board's chairman, said in a prepared statement.
Harford Community College President Richard Pappas met last week with County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann to draft a plan for responding to state cuts of $1.4 million -- also 10 percent of the school's budget. It will be presented to the college's Board of Trustees tomorrow.