Community college students spell out needs in Annapolis

Budget is topic of meeting with area representatives

February 13, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Maryland community college students sat down with legislators from their home communities yesterday, after trekking to Annapolis from all over the state, to put a human face on their schools' needs for increased support.

Jennifer Volpe, a music major at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus, said she was worried about a shortage of teachers and staff brought on by a hiring freeze.

Sarah Davarya, president of the Howard Community College Student Government Association, wanted to know why community colleges get just a fraction of state scholarship money when she and many other students are working full time to pay for school.

Maxine Journey, who is learning office skills at the Community College of Baltimore County's Dundalk campus, believed more homemakers who need to join the work force should have education opportunities.

In all, more than 300 amateur lobbyists visited legislators on the second annual student advocacy day sponsored by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. All of the association's member colleges were represented except Garrett Community College, which was snowed in.

"We can lobby all we want," said Anthony G. Kinkel, executive director of the association, "but until we put a face on [the issues] we can't be successful."

Even with the most impassioned student testimony, winning financial support from a state facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year will be difficult.

"We have inherited a budget situation that impacts everyone in the state, including young people," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told the students before they left for meetings with lawmakers.

He took on the role of teacher with the students, asking them to define leadership and explaining his plans to bring slot machines to Maryland.

When it came to the formula for community college funding, he said, "We would like to get back on track," and pointed out that cuts were made necessary by the budget crunch.

On his way out of the meeting room, Ehrlich told reporters he supports the community college mission and said, "Even with tuition increases, community colleges remain a very good deal."

Despite the difficult financial times, students were motivated to push hard for more support.

The Maryland Association of Community Colleges has reported that the two-year schools enroll 53 percent of Maryland undergraduates and can expect an additional 20,000 students in the next 10 years.

That means a significant need for more funding.

To that end, the two-year schools want the state to restore a formula that links their funding to a percentage of spending on the University System of Maryland. Gov. Parris N. Glendening cut their share from 25 percent to 23.1 percent last year with a promise to return it to its former level by 2006.

That is not soon enough for the community college students.

Volpe, president of the Student Government Association at Essex, said a hiring freeze brought on by tight funding is forcing her school to do without a director of student life, a director of diversity and academic support, and a career counselor, among others.

"If we keep increasing enrollment and we have a hiring freeze, that leads to problems," said Volpe, 20, of Perry Hall.

She said students are lined up waiting for counselors, and students are closed out of classes they need to graduate - or finding the classes canceled, for lack of professors.

"The [aid] formula is the oxygen that drives the community college," Kinkel said. "It helps drive quality on our campuses."

Financial help is another big concern for students. They note that one state effort, the Educational Assistance Grant program, presents a problem because community college students receive only 8 percent of the program's grant money even though they make up 45 percent of the most needy students.

Many community college students miss the March 1 deadline to apply for these grants. They tend to make decisions about educational plans for the coming year later than four-year students because their lives are complicated by jobs, family and other issues.

Community colleges want the state to set aside $3 million from the grant program for them to give to eligible students throughout the year.

That could help people like Alicia Ellis, 18, a natural science major at CCBC Catonsville. The Owings Mills resident did not learn of the scholarship program in time to apply in March. Then her mother was laid off and it was too late to get what had become urgently needed assistance.

"I'm not able to go to work and also be full time in school," Ellis said.

The Community College of Baltimore County also hopes to preserve state funding for programs on its three campuses to help homemakers who need education and training after divorce, separation or illness or death of their spouse.

The governor's proposed budget includes cuts in the funding, and that is frightening to people like Journey, who is learning office technology skills at CCBC Dundalk.

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