Higher ed sees stimulus aid

State is boosting community college funding, sustaining tuition freeze

March 10, 2009|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

Maryland is receiving more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money earmarked for education, and Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday he would use some of it to increase funding for community colleges and maintain the freeze on undergraduate tuition at state universities.

The governor's initial budget for next year did not include an increase for community colleges, which are seeing thousands more students enroll to gain new skills to help them find jobs in the recession. But with the stimulus money, O'Malley is increasing state aid by 5 percent over the next two years.

The funds are also helping Maryland pay for construction at universities, including a $34 million arts center at Bowie State University, a four-year institution that the governor and other officials visited yesterday.

"When the economy goes down, more and more families turn to community colleges," O'Malley said during the appearance. Indeed, the colleges are reporting major enrollment increases. Winter session enrollment at the Community College of Baltimore County was up 21 percent over last year.

Spring enrollment is up 11 percent at Howard Community College, 7.4 percent at Harford Community College and 6 percent at Anne Arundel Community College. The schools are scrambling to find the professors and classrooms needed to absorb the added students.

"We really are enhancing capacity in every way we can," said Sandra Kurtinitis, president of CCBC. The college is looking at teaching more courses online and off-site to meet demand. "We don't think in terms of cutting off access. We think in terms of finding ways to increase it."

AACC had left some teaching positions vacant this winter because of pending cuts. Now, with the additional state money, the college will be able to hire for those jobs, said President Martha A. Smith. "My colleagues and I are very impressed by the fact that the governor and his administration really get it when it comes to our community colleges," Smith said.

Community colleges typically get about a third of their funding from the state, a third from their respective counties and a third from tuition. With county budgets tightening and students unable to handle big tuition increases, the colleges are looking to the state more than ever to pick up the slack.

O'Malley said the fourth year of a freeze on in-state tuition at the university level had been in jeopardy as the state budget outlook worsened. The federal stimulus money allows him to continue the freeze.

The governor was joined at Bowie State yesterday by U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. The senators, both Democrats, highlighted portions of the stimulus and federal budget for fiscal year 2010 that help families pay for education. The maximum Pell Grant, which goes to low-income students, was increased about $500, to $5,350. About 60,000 Maryland students receive Pell Grants.

The college tuition tax credit was increased to $2,500 per student from $1,800, and the income cutoff was increased to $180,000 for families. Federal work-study funding is also increasing. And the federal government will award $6 billion a year in Perkins loans, up from the current $1 billion.

"This president is making education his highest priority," Cardin told students at Bowie State yesterday. "We want to make it easier for you to go to college and make loans more affordable."


* 60,000 Maryland students receive a Pell Grant, for which the maximum grant is increasing to $5,350 from $4,840.

* 53,000 Maryland families are eligible for the college tuition tax credit, which is being increased to $2,500 from $1,800. Families making up to $180,000 are eligible.

* Federal work-study funding is increasing, giving Maryland an extra $3 million.

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