Can you name the college most popular with Baltimore City students? The school where the largest number of city residents attend classes?
The answer may come as a surprise: the New Community College of Baltimore is the runaway leader. In 1990, it enrolled nearly one-quarter of all city residents now in college. No other institution has even half that number of city students.
Yet those figures already are out of date: NCCB is even more popular now. Last fall, NCCB had the highest increase in the number of new and full-time students of any college in Maryland. The growth was a whopping 42 percent among new students and 34 percent for full-time collegians.
That's quite a turnaround for a college that just a few years ago was on the critical list. NCCB has made a remarkable recovery.
Eighteen months ago, the state assumed full control of the floundering two-year college from Baltimore City. Since then, NCCB has re-defined itself. Seven academic programs were killed. Administrators decided to focus resources on six programs that have strong enrollments and growth potential. Faculty tenure was ended and a new system of three-year rolling contracts -- with periodic evaluation -- was implemented.
Interim President James D. Tschechtelin, a seasoned veteran of the state community college hierarchy, brought a cooperative spirit to the two city campuses. The school has embarked on joint ventures with the city public schools, with the state's Project Independence welfare job-training program, downtown businesses and -- the biggest surprise of all -- the three community colleges in Baltimore County. These four colleges have taken the first step in what could be a money-saving regional venture that gives students more course selection and flexibility in fashioning a degree program.
NCCB has achieved all these results while absorbing substantial budget cuts. NCCB hoped to get $2 million in additional state funds this year. Instead, the state cut the college's budget $1.9 million. The new administration found ways to reduce spending without raising tuition -- the only community college in Maryland to avoid that unpopular step. This was especially important because more than half of NCCB's students have so little income they cannot afford to pay for tuition and books without federal grants.
Dr. Tschechtelin seems to have NCCB headed in the right direction. Now he must persuade the General Assembly to make the state takeover permanent. NCCB plays a pivotal role in educating much of the region's entry-level work force. Strengthening this institution will pay big long-term dividends. Given the creative and cost-efficient way NCCB is being run, state legislators should give the college a strong vote of confidence this session.