WESTMINSTER -- Carroll Community College officials are optimistic about their move toward independence after a visit yesterday from state Secretary of Higher Education Shaila Aery.
"It was a pretty encouraging meeting, wasn't it?" Executive Dean Joseph Shields said to Dr. Janet Neslen, a member of the CCC Advisory Board, as she was leaving.
Ms. Aery met with college administrators, the advisory board, County Commissioner Elmer Lippy, state Sen. Charles H. Smelser and Del. Donald B. Elliott.
Although she brought bad news of a shrinking state budget for colleges, she said the move to independence could bring Carroll Community College more state money than it gets as a branch of Catonsville Community College.
The meeting was to discuss what the college needs to do to gain independence from Catonsville, a move that ultimately needs to be approved by Ms. Aery's department.
"The key date for you to decide . . . is when you want to be accredited, then plan backward all the steps," she said.
The independence will first require the college to gain its own accreditation from the independent Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Such accreditation is needed for students to be able to transfer their credits to other colleges and for them to receive financial aid.
Currently, Carroll Community College is included in the accreditation of Catonsville, Mr. Shields said.
Until yesterday, Mr. Shields' plan for accreditation would have required waiting until 1996. But Ms. Aery suggested they go a faster route and apply for candidacy status as soon as next year.
Whichever route the college takes, the bottom line will be to maintain accreditation throughout the process, Mr. Shields said. That way, students' financial aid and credit transfers will remain valid.
Ms. Aery said she was surprised at the growth of the Carroll campus -- 1,900 students are expected in the fall -- without any official status or accreditation of its own.
"It looks like you came in through the back door," she said, referring to its unique situation in the state.
"You're right, Dr. Aery. We just kind of grew like Topsy," said Barbara Charnock, chairwoman of the Advisory Board, and also of the Transition Team that is studying the move toward independence.
The college's roots go back 15 years, when the Catonsville campus started offering a few classes in Carroll County at the request of county commissioners, said Catonsville Community College President Frederick J. Walsh.
In April 1990, it opened its new campus on Route 32.
The state funding formula for community colleges since 1988 has changed so that it is not based solely on enrollment, Mr. Shields said. Because the state acknowledges some fixed costs, smaller colleges get reimbursed at a slightly higher rate per student.
But as part of Catonsville, Carroll gets reimbursed at the rate for a bigger school. Mr. Shields said that has cost the college about $800,000 a year in state money.
But since the college's enrollment has now grown to middle sized instead of small, he said, the difference would be about $200,000 a year.
Ms. Aery, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Shields agreed that even after CCC gains independence, it would benefit both campuses to share data bases, payroll services and high-tech academic programs such as nursing that already are established in Catonsville.