Thousands of Maryland students will pay more for their education in the coming school year as community colleges, squeezed between growing enrollment and the likelihood of decreasing state and county aid, are raising their tuition.
Increases of $3 to $6 per credit hour are on their way for in-county students at Howard and Carroll community colleges as well as at the Community College of Baltimore County. Baltimore City Community College tuition could go up as much as $9 a credit hour.
FOR THE RECORD - An article about community college tuition increases in the Sunday editions of The Sun incorrectly identified Steve Kirchner as vice chancellor for finance and administration at Baltimore City Community College. He holds that post at the Community College of Baltimore County. The Sun regrets the error.
Anne Arundel County Community College and others also are contemplating raises.
"We hate to do it," said Roger Caplan, president of the board of trustees at Howard Community College, "but everyone has to bear some of the brunt [of difficult economic times]. We understand that."
The University System of Maryland revealed last week that it is considering a 5 percent midyear tuition increase for the spring semester that begins this month. That could mean $90 to $120 in extra payments for in-state undergraduates this spring.
The planned community college increases could add $45 to $90 a semester in tuition expense for full-time in-county students at area schools beginning next fall - possibly more in Baltimore City. Tuition for a full 30-credit year at Baltimore-area community colleges could reach between $2,070 and $2,700.
During an economic downturn, community college enrollment goes up "because we are the affordable higher-education institution," Caplan said.
Community colleges are now educating 53 percent of Maryland undergraduates, said Anthony G. Kinkel, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.
As the state seeks space for a projected 20,000 new students during the next decade, he said, individuals "will turn increasingly to community colleges."
Baltimore-area community colleges are hoping for the best in state and local aid and are planning for the worst.
To support enrollment that has grown 8 percent to 9 percent each year for the past several years, Howard Community College's board of trustees is expected to approve a $47 million operating budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, up $3.7 million from the current fiscal year.
In addition to a tuition increase, the school hopes to fund that growth with a 13.6 percent boost in county aid and 4.5 percent more from the state.
Howard Community College also plans to use that money to hire five new faculty members, maintain new athletic fields and meet the expenses of putting its new 105,000-square-foot instructional building to use.
The school also is pushing a $23.5 million capital budget that would use state, county and private funds to build a new arts and humanities building on its Columbia campus, among other projects.
Carroll Community College in Westminster has already secured funding for its new nursing and allied health building. But it is requesting capital funds from the county and state to fill it with furniture and equipment.
The school is planning to use its $3 in-county tuition increase - to $82 per credit hour - to help fund a new health curriculum and to cover other costs.
Administrators hoped to avoid tuition increases this year, but "as we got more information about the level of funding we could expect from government sources, we reached a different conclusion," said Alan Schuman, executive vice president of administration.
In Baltimore County, the school's board has already approved tuition increases of $6 for in-county students and $24 for non-county and out-of-state residents.
That school would like to receive more county and state aid to help cover costs associated with a projected 8 percent enrollment increase. It also hopes to increase programs for minority students and hopes to establish new "schools of learning" in information technology, allied health fields and criminal justice.
Baltimore City Community College is considering a $6 to $9 increase per credit hour. It does not differentiate by student residence.
The college relies on a flat payment of $800,000 from the city and a significant contribution of state funding.
It is bracing for severe cuts by freezing hiring, reevaluating classes and putting off maintenance projects, including a partially completed renovation of a main classroom building.
Like other community colleges, Baltimore City Community College is worried about raising rates when many of its students have limited financial resources.
"Our concern is we have a high percentage of students who receive federal financial aid," said college President Sylvester McKay. "Thirty-three percent have family incomes less than $20,000 [a year]."
Anne Arundel Community College has not submitted a budget to its board of trustees, awaiting concrete news on aid from the state. But "it is a possibility that we will be facing a tuition increase," said Fran Turcott, a college spokeswoman.
For all of the community colleges, the state government's role is key - and worrisome.