Letter: Pension shift would be a blow to community colleges

March 05, 2012

Imagine a future without access to Maryland's community colleges. Our nation's community colleges are needed now more than ever to put people back to work, retrain employees who have lost jobs and give high school graduates a viable option when they can no longer afford to enroll immediately in a four-year college or university. The hope of these individuals to rejoin or join the middle class is at stake if the General Assembly enacts Gov. O'Malley's proposal to shift a substantial portion of teacher pension costs from the State of Maryland to its counties.

The pension shift proposed would create an immediate deficit for community colleges that totals at least $9.5 million for fiscal 2013 alone and would increase further in out years. While the governor has proposed giving counties additional authority to raise offsetting revenues, there is absolutely no guarantee that the counties would financially be able to utilize this particular option, or that they would be in any position to pass the revenue on to the community colleges.

Our counties lack the funds that they need to take on the state's traditional commitment. As a result, community colleges will have no other choice but to increase tuition, a burden to students who can least afford to pay more for their college education.

At Howard Community College, 61 percent of budgeted employees are in the state retirement system. If the proposed pension shift is passed, the cost to the college's operating budget in fiscal year 2013 would be a staggering $565,000, with significant increases waiting just around the corner in the years ahead.

In recent years, the state's commitment to funding one-third of the cost of a community college education has fallen to below 20 percent, with student tuition picking up the shortfall. This is coupled with the fact that there has been a 99 percent increase in financial aid recipients at the college from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2012. Howard Community College students cannot absorb additional costs.

Those of us at community colleges understand the intense pressure that our elected officials face as a $1 billion shortfall sits heavily on the state of Maryland. We, however, ask our elected officials to carefully consider the severe impact that shifting pensions to the counties, and, thereby, directly to the community colleges, will have on numerous people.

What would Maryland look like without access to its community colleges? We should ask the many nurses, teachers, emergency medical technicians, physical therapists, policemen, firemen, cyber security professionals, and other members of Maryland's critical workforce who benefited from a community college education.

Kathleen Hetherington


Howard Community College

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