BCCC's health linked to city's

The Education Beat

Report: A study indicates that Baltimore's system of community colleges has a significant impact on the city's educational and financial well-being.

March 27, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE ABELL Foundation performs a valuable service by shining a light into corners where others seldom look. This week, the foundation put out a report on the public college perhaps most vital to Baltimore's educational and financial health -- yet seldom examined in any depth.

Hint: It's not Morgan, Coppin or the University of Baltimore. It has 18,300 credit and noncredit students, two campuses and five off-campus centers, and it's been a state college for only a dozen years.

It's Baltimore City Community College, and the Abell report says it has big problems.

Graduation rates have declined significantly during the past few years, while a startling number of first-time students aren't prepared for college work. Virtually every new student needs remedial work in at least one subject. Not surprisingly, the least prepared are graduates of Baltimore public high schools.

"After a decade of reforms and increased standards in Maryland," says the Abell report, "[Baltimore high school graduates] should be achieving at steadily higher levels at BCCC. Sadly, they are not."

Not that BCCC is alone. The three-campus Community College of Baltimore County also is flooded with unprepared students, many of whom are products of Baltimore County high schools.

And not that BCCC is without success. To the contrary, many of its stories are heroic. More than half of the college's students work full time, and two-thirds of these have incomes of less than $20,000 a year. So, again not surprisingly, three times as many BCCC students are enrolled in career-based studies as in traditional transfer programs -- two years in the community college, followed by two years in a four-year school.

The college's career programs have excellent records. Among all BCCC career graduates, 97 percent are employed or continuing their education. The Abell report documents the considerable salary benefits of a BCCC degree -- a $6,000 increase in the first year over those without a degree or certificate, and double the salary within seven years. Moreover, nearly nine of 10 work in Baltimore.

In short, the academic health of Baltimore City Community College is intertwined with the city's economic well-being, and policy-makers need to pay attention.

Among other recommendations, the Abell report says the college "must reinvent" its relationship with the city school system, where schools chief Carmen V. Russo at long last is turning full attention to the reform of the system's low-performing neighborhood high schools.

A reminder that college is about more than sports

Monday, the day before release of the Abell report, the CollegeBound Foundation and other groups launched College Awareness Month, an effort to get city kids thinking about college as early as the elementary grades. The event featured bands and speeches, awards for the winners of art, essay and poetry contests, and lunch at Port Discovery children's museum.

Master of ceremonies Gerry Sandusky, the WBAL-TV sportscaster, referred to the sports news on many minds Monday morning.

No matter what happens to the Maryland Terrapins this weekend, Sandusky told a gathering of about 100 city schoolchildren, "next Tuesday morning is going to come." To put sports in perspective, he said, "your chances of making money in professional sports are about 10 percent of your chances of becoming surgeon general of the United States."

So stick to your studies, Sandusky advised, "and remember: Tuesday morning will come."

Then again, winning teams can raise a school's profile

Does success in intercollegiate sports translate to success in attracting students? Yes, say officials at the University of Maryland, College Park. George Cathcart, spokesman for the university, has anecdotal evidence that a number of prospective students have applied because they want to be with a winner. Men's team appearances in the Orange Bowl and NCAA Final Four haven't hurt.

Cathcart says College Park's academic improvements also play a role. Whatever the case, College Park this year received a record 23,000 applications for the 3,900 places in the Class of 2006.

9 Baltimore schools placed on `much-improved' list

Nine Baltimore schools have been placed on the "much-improved" list of schools once deemed eligible for state takeover but now showing "significant, sustained" gains. Honored by the state Board of Education at its meeting yesterday were Beechfield, Dr. Rayner Browne, Walter P. Carter, Federal Hill, Frederick, Holabird, Lyndhurst and Rognel Heights elementary schools and Winston Middle School.

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