Funding Cuts Lead to Community College Tuition Increases

An October 11 story on the major role community colleges play in Maryland’s education system and the impact that funding cuts have had on tuition.

Maryland’s community colleges, attended by half the undergraduates in Maryland, have not been able to match their four-year counterparts with a total freeze during the economic downturn, due to drops in state and local funding.

But they have tried hard to keep tuition increases minimal. Even Maryland’s most expensive community college — in Howard County — is a third less expensive than [the] lowest cost university for undergraduates — Coppin State — and costs less than half of the most expensive four-year schools — College Park and UMBC. …

[Maryland Association of Community Colleges Research Director Brad] Phillips said that community colleges try to keep higher education accessible and affordable for as many residents as possible.

“The role of the community college in an economic downturn is very important,” Phillips said. He said about 95% of a community college’s graduates — including those in vocational trades — will stay in their communities and work after they graduate. “Community colleges are the solution to the downturn,” Phillips said.

About half of the state’s college students attend community colleges. This past year community college enrollment was 140,000 students, while 113,000 students attended public state universities, and 32,000 attended private colleges. …

The state is supposed to pick up a third of the costs, local governments pick up a third, and student tuition covers another third, Phillips said.

[He] said the state has never been able to kick in a full third of costs to community colleges. The state’s share in a normal year, he said, is usually about 29% – but that drops quite a bit during an economic downturn. In fiscal year 2009 – the most recent audited data – the state only picked up 23% of tuition costs on average. Counties shouldered 37% of the costs, while student tuition and fees made up 38%.

Money has been tight on the local and county level, too. However, Phillips said, the Cade formula requires counties to give at least the same amount of money to their community colleges that they did the previous year. Phillips said that counties have held firm on their financial obligations to the community colleges.

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