'Students first' at AACC? Cutting student activities violates community college's purpose.

February 20, 1996

THE MOTTO at Anne Arundel Community College, "Students first," might soon have to be changed to "Students last."

Today, the college's Board of Trustees will decide whether to raid $100,000 from the student activities and athletics budgets next year to offset rising operating costs.

The idea comes from college administrators, who want to avoid a tuition increase and the bad publicity that goes with it. Under the proposed budget shift, however, students would lose some interscholastic sports teams; the campus literary magazine; the student handbook, which provides valuable information about AACC rules and policies, and orientation for new pupils.

Students are outraged, and rightly so. They are the reason the college exists. They are paying for a full educational experience. That includes sports and extracurricular activities. Students also have a right to expect basic tools such as a handbook or an orientation.

Like most public education institutions, AACC has had to pinch and scratch some these past few years. Rising expenses -- combined with a recession, a local cap on property taxes and a stagnant state aid flow -- have left faculty and staff without cost-of-living increases for several years.

The cost of utilities and health benefits is going up, and President Martha Smith says the school needs new labs and workshops. And yet, AACC has fared better financially than almost any other public institution in the county. For years, former AACC President Thomas Florestano succeeded in getting whatever he wanted from whoever occupied the county executive's office. The college proved especially adept at securing funds for its long-range building program, acquiring millions for a campus expansion and fine arts building.

Administrators are wise not to expect too much from the county next year and to come up with money internally. But cutting student activities violates the purpose of the college's existence.

AACC would be better off with a modest rise in tuition. At $870 for a 15-credit semester, tuition at AACC is incredibly cheap. Most students and their parents would rather pay a bit more to attend than to watch the school degrade the quality of the education experience.

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