A conversation with the president of Anne Arundel Community College

January 21, 2001

Martha A. Smith is midway through her seventh year as president of Anne Arundel Community College. She previously headed Dundalk Community College. Dr. Smith talked with Sun editorial writer Norris P. West about her college's mission in the high-tech economy and other challenges.

QUESTION: Patrick Nettles, the chief executive officer of the Ciena Corp., recently said the school system and the Anne Arundel Community College weren't doing a good job training students for the technical work force. Was that a fair criticism?

ANSWER: I don't think it is, but what I'd really like to do is put that it context. We've had a strategic plan in place for the past five or six years that has had a No. 1 priority of meeting community needs. So we have been very committed to our board of trustees and our entire faculty and staff, realigning all of our resources and being very serious about this priority as the community's college.

And we think we're doing a really great job of meeting our community's needs. We are a data-driven institution -- whether we're talking about transfer programs or career programs.

We track GPAs when our students go to four-year colleges, and we find that they do very well. And we survey employers, and we ask: "How do you find the preparation of our students?"

One hundred percent of those who respond say they are very satisfied or satisfied with the training of our students.

Q: What is the community college's primary mission right now?

A: To provide high-quality higher education that is affordable and accessible to our community. Period. And we take that very seriously.

So every year when we go before our board of trustees, the county council, the legislature and our county executive, we report back to them on how we've done relative to quality, accessibility, affordability and responsiveness to the needs of our community. We give them data. It's not just a phrase or something we put on a bumper sticker.

Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the future, and in what academic areas do you expect to see growth?

A: Again, let me put that in context. I'm a member of the governor's Work Force Investment Board, and at its meeting in September one of the pieces of information handed out was something called the areas of worker shortage in the state of Maryland.

As I looked at that I thought, "Holy cow!" Anne Arundel Community College has invested in programs in each of those areas: teacher education, technologies, nursing, hospitality, culinary arts and construction trades.

I was very affirmed on behalf of AACC that over the past three or four years we have really invested resources in those programs.

Q: What about expansion of your the physical plant? At one time there has been talk of building a regional campus in Odenton, at the planned town center. Do you hope that plan will resurface?

A: We have not given up hope of finding a site in West County for what we're calling an expanded presence. As you know, that area has been the fastest-growing part of the county for the past several years. So while we have a large presence at Meade High School, we know we need a daytime, nighttime, weekend presence for both credit and noncredit programs.

Q: There's talk from time to time that Anne Arundel County needs a four-year school. Do you want that to happen?

A: The only experience I have with that concept is students coming to me almost on a weekly basis or monthly basis and saying, "Please make Anne Arundel Community College a four-year college or university."

Q: Why shouldn't that happen?

A: The community college mission is very distinct from that of a four-year college. And we are very dedicated, committed to that mission. If we were to become a four-year college or university, we would no longer be a community college. And to me that mission is so critical for the citizens of any county. The whole idea of a community college is that it would be a people's college.

Q: Would you like to see a four-year college here in addition to your community college?

A: I tell you what I'd like to see, and we're working hard on this and making progress: expanded articulation agreements with four-year colleges and universities. We have one already with UMUC (University of Maryland, University College) in the sense that students can enroll concurrently in Anne Arundel Community College and UMUC if they are working on a program that articulates to UMUC. We also have the College of Notre Dame in education.

Q: Are you satisfied with the level of funding from the state or the county? Or do you need more money this year or in the coming years to allow you to do a better job fulfilling your mission?

A: I'm very, very grateful for the funding we have received. The state adopted a funding formula several years ago, and that's been helpful to community colleges. And we'd like to see that continue and perhaps enhanced in the future because we're reaching a top-out point. I think it's time to look at the formula and see if it needs to be adjusted upward. Our county has been very generous to us. We try to be very accountable for every dime that we get.

In another area, we need to find additional money from the state for capital funding. There are 16 community colleges in the state of Maryland, and we enroll half of the undergraduates in public higher education. Right now we get 6 or 7 percent of the higher education capital budget.

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