Three's a crowd in Baltimore County Revamping community colleges: Merging Dundalk and Essex campuses makes sense.

April 02, 1996

BALTIMORE COUNTY'S three community colleges have long been an anomaly in Maryland -- separate schools with separate administrations. No other county college has that arrangement.

The county's divided political history is explanation, but it is no longer a justification, with declining revenues and menacing deficits for the system serving more than 55,000 (credit and non-credit course) students. A chancellor was hired last year to consolidate the schools, eliminate duplication and cut costs, in the wake of decreased funding from state and county.

The proposal to merge the Essex and Dundalk campuses, six miles apart on the county's east side, would be a sensible step toward that goal, despite political hurdles. The Catonsville campus would remain on the west side.

While the three campuses were separate schools, such a move would have been unthinkable. Their combination under a single board of trustees and chancellor affords that opportunity now. County Council members are openly discussing the idea, and the chance to make significant long-term savings through rationalization of the $80 million system.

Consolidation at the Essex location is drawing the strongest interest, even if it is older than the Dundalk campus, because it would be closer for north county residents and because its enrollment is much larger.

In the short run, however, other measures are needed to make up budget shortfalls, such as the $2.8 million drop in tuition income. Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista is pledging tuition increases, service cuts and staff reductions (by retirements and layoffs) to save some $3 million within two years. But his expensive Towson administrative offices and his new hires, creating an added layer of bureaucracy, are also under fire from county officials. This criticism adds to pressure on Dr. LaVista to prove he can accomplish the task for which he was hired.

Enrollment in the Baltimore County college system is the largest in Maryland; campus accessibility has been a key factor. In any future plan, courses must still be offered at non-campus sites throughout the county to maintain that community outreach. But consolidation of the two east side campuses is a promising way to slash infrastructure costs, while continuing important educational services.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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