Community colleges are increasingly important as a source of higher education, both for college credits and for non-credit courses that have always been the backbone of community support for these institutions in Maryland.
Affordable tuition and convenient local location are two major factors that have promoted their growth. There was no concern about duplication between these two-year colleges; each county focused on its own educational needs.
One notable example of inter-college cooperation, however, was the joint program of Carroll Community College and Frederick Community College in operating a satellite campus at Mount Airy.
The town on Carroll's southwestern tip, which lies half in Frederick County, is equidistant between the main campuses of the two schools and is long accustomed to the multi-jurisdictional sharing of responsibilities and services.
But the venture has collapsed. Frederick will pull out of the Mount Airy program, having canceled its non-credit offerings and announcing its intention to withdraw from credit courses after this fall semester. The reason: a relative lack of interest from the Frederick side, compared to Carroll residents' enrollment in courses.
In the six years since the joint program was launched, Carroll's enrollment in non-credit courses rose to 85 percent. The three college-credit courses had a 50-50 split, but the enrollment was very small.
Carroll Community College will now consolidate the evening classes at the Mount Airy Senior Center and vacate the local middle school that had housed the branch operation since 1990, to reduce expenses that the two colleges had shared. After the fall semester, Frederick County residents will have to pay out-of-county fees to enroll.
As with any such program, community interest will determine the extent of classes and courses planned in the future. But the public mission should not be abandoned. The popular course in horse stable management, for example, is only offered at the Mount Airy site.
We hope that Carroll Community College will continue to support this valuable program, despite the understandable withdrawal of Frederick Community College.