Community colleges are needed now more than ever to put people back to work, train employees in critical work force areas such as nursing and give high school graduates hope that they can receive a quality education that is affordable and accessible. The overwhelming majority of jobs in our "knowledge economy" require education beyond high school. Maryland's response to this reality includes a recent push to ensure that education is provided for people interested in careers that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree ("Not enough workers," March 2). Community colleges are the perfect fit.
The troubling aspect with this work force preparation picture is that state funding is actually being cut for community colleges at a time when more funds should be invested. Enrollments are skyrocketing at community colleges across the state of Maryland, yet the funding in the governor's budget for this year has been reduced by $5.4 million. While it appears that the community colleges are being "level-funded," the reality is the $256 million allocated for the colleges contains special grants funding and retirement benefits, two line items that were never previously included in the basic grant allocation. Community colleges, unlike public schools and libraries, are indirectly being required to pay the increased cost of retirement benefits for their employees. While it appears that the amount the community colleges are receiving is the same, the reality is that they are being cut.
Our board of trustees realizes the governor is a strong supporter of community colleges. We are concerned, however, that this reduction in funding places an incredible financial burden on all of Maryland's community colleges at a time when we are trying to contain costs so students will continue to have an affordable educational option. After all, if students can't afford their local community college, chances are that they will not be able to go to college at all.
T. James Truby, Columbia
The writer is chairman of the Howard County Community College Board of Trustees.