Howard Community College looks at tuition increase

Community college seeking way to raise faculty salaries, which didn't go up last year

November 22, 2009|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

Despite already high tuition, Howard Community College's trustees are preparing to raise the rates in order to give faculty members at the growing college a pay raise next fiscal year.

College board Chairman T. James Truby said with state and county revenues flat or falling, the only way the college can avoid forcing instructors to go without even a minimal cost-of-living increase for a second year is by increasing the $114-per-credit tuition charge perhaps as much as $5 a credit. Tuition has not changed in two years, Truby noted, while the college has sustained state budget cuts each of the past three fiscal years.

College President Kate Hetherington said a tuition increase would produce about $600,000 in revenue for the institution, which has about 8,700 for-credit students. The college also teaches 17,400 noncredit students. She stressed, however, that the discussion is very preliminary, though a tuition increase is likely.

"It's really, really important that our faculty knows how highly they are valued. Without them, we can't do our job," said board member Kathy Rensin at a meeting Wednesday night.

"The only way to fund that is to raise student tuition, which we are not happy about doing," Truby said. But a tuition increase will provide funding that can't be removed later, ensuring that a pay raise won't be followed by an unpaid furlough, negating the raise, he said.

"I think we definitely have to consider that," said a third board member, Roberta E. Dillow.

Although Truby did not give a specific amount for a possible pay raise, an internal college staff committee has recommended a 6.5 percent increase, plus free tuition at the school for the dependents, spouses and domestic partners of staff members. Hetherington noted, however that the same committee asked for a 9.5 percent increase this year, when none was granted.

Howard Community College's tuition is among the highest in Maryland, and $17 per credit of it goes to pay for interest on capital building projects and financial aid to needy students. Requests for aid are up 40 percent, Truby said, and enrollment is also rising, as students realize community college is cheaper than a four-year institution.

But officials said money for new faculty or pay raises has lagged. The college faculty received no pay raise this year, while county public school teachers got 1 percent. In addition, only 39 percent of the college's faculty are now full-time professors, officials said, and the percentage has been declining. The national standard is to have at least half the staff full time.

The college hired three new full-time instructors to match a 12 percent increase in enrollment last year, officials told the board. To keep pace, that enrollment increase would have required 24 new full-time staff members, two for each 1 percent enrollment increase.

Kevin J. Doyle, another board member, said he felt falling below 40 percent full-time faculty is dangerous for the school. "I don't want to see quality fade," he said. The college fills the gap with part-time instructors who are paid for each course they teach.

Truby noted that the public schools would never allow so many part-time teachers. "It isn't even discussed," he said. "Full-time faculty provides a full range of support for student success. It is a critical part of the infrastructure that makes the place go," he said.

Hetherington said the tuition issue would not likely come to a board vote before January, but the college would have time this spring to see the level of state and county funding before a final decision is made.

This year, state cuts removed all but a $40,000 increase in the college's funding out of an $86 million budget.

"We really haven't been able to count on that income," Truby said after the meeting.

The board also voted to hire CB Richard Ellis, an international real estate marketing firm, to sell Belmont, the college's 18th-century estate in Elkridge. No price has been set on the estate and conference center, now used to teach hospitality and culinary arts courses.

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