Anticipating state cutbacks, HCC weighs austerity measures

August 30, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Harford Community College is considering raising tuition, dropping some academic programs, reducing staff and limiting enrollment as a result of expected state cutbacks.

"These are all possibilities, and none of them are good," said Richard J. Pappas, the college's president.

With enrollment expected to hit a record high during the coming school year, HCC is bracing for another 25 percent reduction -- or $1.5 million loss -- in state aid during the current budget year, which ends June 30, 1993, because of Maryland's estimated $500 million deficit.

The new budget cuts would bring the amount of state aid the college has lost in three years to $3.4 million, and Mr. Pappas fears more cuts next year as well.

State reductions last year of $1.5 million, or 10 percent of HCC's total budget of $15 million, forced the college to cut services and eliminate free courses offered through the county's five senior centers. This year's $16.1 million college budget includes none of those services.

Mr. Pappas said more cutbacks could force HCC to restructure.

Non-academic programs, such as adult basic education classes, could also be trimmed.

"That may mean changing our basic philosophy," he said. "The purpose of community colleges has always been to offer opportunity for all. We might have to limit enrollment or not offer as many academic programs."

County Councilman Robert Wagner, a District E Republican, said HCC's threat to cut services "infuriates" him because the college's board of trustees in July gave employees a 3 percent cost-of-living raise as well as a step raise. State and county government employees received a step raise, but no RTC cost-of-living raises.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is that we all knew budget cuts were coming, but HCC still decided to give employees pay raises," Mr. Wagner said. "HCC is a very valuable resource, but at the same time there are lots of people who are losing their jobs."

HCC subsequently had to come up with an additional $70,000 to cover the costs of Social Security and benefits that accompanied the raises. The state refuses to cover these costs if agencies that receive state money give raises when state workers get none.

That penalty and the 3 percent raise will cost the college $300,000; the single step increase will cost the college $165,000, Mr. Pappas said.

The budget woes forcing HCC to cut services have also made the college more attractive to students because it is cheaper than four-year colleges.

Community colleges nationwide account for 50 percent of all first-time, full-time freshmen, Mr. Pappas said.

If the college limits enrollment, the poorest students would be hurt most because they do not have the option of attending a more expensive four-year school.

Mr. Pappas said he did not want to raise tuition again but he couldn't rule it out.

Last year, HCC raised tuition by $13 to $56 per credit to help cushion budget cuts of 2 percent from the county and 25 percent from the state, the maximum the governor is allowed to make. HCC, which offers associate of arts degrees, is financed by the state and county and tuition. The county's share of HCC's fiscal 1993 budget is $5.1 million.

HCC will be scrutinizing its course offerings, judging academic programs by their enrollment, cost and, most importantly, whether employers are hiring students who take those courses, Mr. Pappas said.

He said the nursing program, although one of the most expensive to run, is one of the most important because of the demand for nurses. That program will not be cut.

Mr. Pappas also said that without more money, the school might, as a last resort, have to limit student registration. The college forecasts that by 2000, full-time, for-credit student enrollment could exceed 10,000. As the county grows, so does the student population at HCC, he said.

Enrollment for this fall semester in full-time, for-credit academic programs is expected to be 10 percent to 17 percent higher than last year's. Over the past three years, enrollment has grown 21 percent.

The college is now bursting at the seams, and classes fill quickly. HCC has no more room for additional morning or evening classes.

The school has added afternoon classes, but these can be inconvenient for students trying to build a work schedule around their classes. HCC wants to expand weekend offerings so that an associate of arts student could take all necessary classes on weekends.

The college, which has not built a new academic building since 1978, wants to build an apprenticeship training building, another academic building and a cultural center, Mr. Pappas said.

Lack of space also hampers HCC's attempts to induce four-year colleges to operate satellite programs on campus.

The college's new partnership with the Weekend College of Notre Dame of Maryland, for example, resulted in weekend classes only because of a lack of space during the week.

Any new academic programs would require business partnerships, including money, equipment and expertise, Mr. Pappas said.

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