HCC budget grows to meet enrollment

$47 million spending plan would require tuition rise, aid from county, state

Howard County

January 19, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Howard Community College does not intend to let anxiety about the economy derail it from making plans for new buildings, more faculty and increased growth.

In a proposed $47 million budget that trustees plan to approve at their meeting Wednesday, the school is asking for nearly $15.7 million in county aid and hoping the state sticks to a formula that would mean more than $8 million to support operating costs.

But the proposed state budget released Friday by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signaled trouble ahead for Howard's ambitious plans.

To help deal with a projected state budget shortfall of about $1.8 billion for this fiscal year and next, the new governor reportedly is proposing to cut University of Maryland spending again this year and freeze it at that level the next year.

State aid to community colleges is now a set percentage of UM spending.

A $4-per-credit tuition increase for county residents will help boost Howard's total income from tuition and fees to $17 million. The tuition payments and state and county funds are the college's three largest revenue sources.

But leaders have said the school needs increased government support to accomplish their goals for the next fiscal year.

"It's very simple," said Roger N. Caplan, chairman of the board of trustees. "Our student population is growing."

The number of students enrolled for credit at HCC jumped 8.8 percent between 2000 and 2001. In fall of 2002, it was up another 4 percent over the previous fall at 6,182 students.

About 12,000 people take noncredit continuing education classes at HCC each year.

"Community colleges need to be funded now more than ever because the demand is higher," Caplan said. "We are a very cost-effective alternative for higher education for many students."

He called the proposed budget realistic and said it "maintains the quality we expect and moves the college forward." It will go next to the county executive and on to the County Council before a final budget is approved in May.

In the next fiscal year, a significant portion of expenditures will be associated with the school's new 105,000-square-foot Instructional Lab Building. That will mean added costs for everything from security, cleaning and maintenance to classroom supplies.

With more space for classes, HCC plans to spend $476,642 to hire five more faculty members -- in mass media, education, business management, biology and math -- as well as several other staff members.

Also included in the budget is $80,000 for maintaining soon-to-be-built athletic fields, $94,000 in insurance costs and $36,400 in increased costs for student e-mail accounts.

"It is a good thing to be aware of where the money goes," said Joshua Wiker, a criminal justice major who is vice president of the Student Government Association. When students think about the buildings, teachers, classes and services funded by their tuition, he believes they will accept an increase.

President Mary Ellen Duncan also said she wants to increase financial aid resources to help lower-income students cope with the increased tuition.

Even with the new instructional lab up and running, "we are behind in building facilities," Duncan said.

Based on state formulas, HCC, which had not had a new classroom building in 10 years, is significantly behind on square feet of space compared to its student population.

The school is seeking $19 million in state, county and private funds to move ahead with a planned arts and humanities building, intended to break ground this summer.

Other funds in the proposed $23.5 million capital budget are intended for athletic fields, general renovations and design of a new student services building.

Projected budget shortfalls for the county and state "come at a very bad time, a time of enrollment growth," Duncan said. "I understand it will be difficult."

But, she continued, "We have to stay focused on the catching-up part."

HCC's board and staff recognize that it could be difficult to secure a 13.6 percent increase from the county and a 4.6 percent increase from the state, as outlined in the budget. Schools will not know how much they have to work with until they fully assess the consequences of Ehrlich's financial plan.

In past years, community colleges have relied on a formula authorizing them to share an amount equivalent to 25 percent of the University of Maryland budget. But last year, the formula was changed to 23.1 percent at the same time the total amount of funding dropped, and Ehrlich's budget outline suggests further cuts may be ahead.

Locally, HCC has a good relationship with county leaders, Caplan said. The board believes legislators will recognize the increased role the community college plays in educating local students as four-year schools increase their requirements and rates.

"We try to present our budget as honestly as we can," Caplan said. But, he added, "I know [legislators] have some tough decisions to make. ... Whatever happens, we will work within those boundaries."

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