More tuition rises planned

Community college costs in state increase by as much as $10 a credit

Accessibility in jeopardy

Schools making efforts to cut spending elsewhere

January 11, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Marylanders seeking an affordable higher education will find the price rising at most community colleges this year -- the latest in a series of tuition increases challenging the schools' mission to make their offerings accessible to everyone.

The increases could mean $90 to $300 more per year for students taking a full 30-credit load. Many students will likely take the increase in stride, but some say there is a limit.

Anne Arundel Community College and the Community College of Baltimore County have raised tuition $10 per credit for their spring semesters, which begin in a couple of weeks. Jumps of $3 per credit in Montgomery County, $6 per credit in Carroll County and $10 per credit in Howard County are planned for later this year.

At CCBC's Catonsville campus, Donovan Lomax of Woodlawn said many students work to pay for their education.

"It's OK at the moment," he said. "But if it goes up, it's harder to afford it."

Lomax studies art and computer animation at CCBC and plans to continue his studies at Maryland Institute College of Art. "I'm trying to save up to get what I need done," he said.

Kristina Belkova of Elkridge pays for half of her costs to study nursing at Howard Community College, so "tuition is definitely a factor," she said.

The $10 increase "is not small," she said. "It might discourage people from taking winter or summer classes." But, she said, she thinks the school is making an effort to keep costs down through other means.

The statewide average tuition and fees for in-county students rose just under 17 percent from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2004, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Full-time students paid $2,675, on average, for the 2003-2004 school year.

Tuition for out-of-county and out-of-state students has also risen.

But there are exceptions to the trend. Baltimore City Community College and Harford Community College plan to hold the line at their current tuition rates, after increases last year. All of the schools are waiting to see what the state budget provides.

"Many BCCC students already struggle to attend the institution," President Sylvester E. McKay said in an e-mail. "Forty-four percent of BCCC students have annual household incomes of $20,000 or less. ... Sharp enrollment increases amid declining state budget support constitutes a major challenge for [the school] as it strives to keep higher education affordable."

Over the past several years, state support to community colleges has been cut by nearly $10 million, according to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

The formula for most community colleges -- which allocates money as a percentage of funding for the University System of Maryland -- was cut in 2002, from 25 percent to 23.1 percent, and has remained at the lower level. At the same time, the amount given to the university system has declined.

BCCC has a separate formula for state funding.

Full-time enrollment also has steadily risen at community colleges. Many students are encouraged by the lower cost and open enrollment policies as tuition and entrance standards rise at four-year schools.

Other states have faced similar problems in funding higher education, said Janice Doyle, assistant secretary for finance policy at the Maryland Higher Education Commission. "We're not alone in this," Doyle said. "We don't want a situation where we have students who just can't attend."

She said she believes each campus is evaluating how much tuition students can handle and considering cost-cutting measures.

Colleges report they are leaving jobs unfilled, cutting staff travel and looking for the least expensive service contracts. Some have cut athletic programs and administrative positions, reduced the number of classes and delayed purchases of furniture and equipment, among other measures.

Doyle said the state commission is looking for ways to help individual students with financial aid. Colleges seek private scholarship funds as well.

Administrators are finding the tuition increases troublesome, particularly because community colleges pride themselves on open enrollment and are often the most affordable option for low-income students.

"It concerns us enormously," said Linda Schulte, director of public relations for Anne Arundel Community College. The more tuition rises, "the less we're able to fulfill what we think is our moral imperative, which is to provide education to anybody who seeks it," she said.

The $10 increase being considered by the Howard Community College board of trustees "is certainly a high amount," said Mary Ellen Duncan, president of HCC. "But we think the conditions warrant it."

Charlene R. Nunley, president of Montgomery College, said schools face "some terrible choices." If they can't afford to add faculty and class sections, they will have to turn people away, she said. If they raise tuition to pay for those things, they could price some people out.

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