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Group to to bat for more HCC funding

January 16, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Claiming that community colleges - including Hagerstown Community College - repeatedly have been underfunded by the state, the Maryland Association of Community Colleges is pushing for an increase in the amount of money the state gives community colleges.

HCC business officers will discuss the issue at a meeting with other community college officials and representatives from the Maryland Association of Community Colleges and the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said Anna Barker, HCC's vice president of administration and finance. The meeting is set for Jan. 23, according to an HCC official.

The association and the state's community colleges hope to introduce a bill that would guarantee increased funding beginning in 2008. If passed, the law would take effect as early as 2008, Barker said.

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The announcement follows Gov. Robert Ehrlich's promise to increase higher education funding in 2007. Ehrlich said last week that community colleges would receive $14.4 million in 2007, 7.4 percent more than what was allotted for 2006, according to the governor's office.

By law, community colleges are supposed to get 25 percent of the amount per student given to the University System of Maryland.

The bill being proposed by community college officials would increase the amount to 30 percent, though it would be introduced in smaller 1 percent increases over the next five years, said Clay Whitlow, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

The state senate's Budget and Taxation Committee would review the bill. Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and a member of the committee, said community colleges have a strong case.

"I think spending additional money is going to be a hard sell, but I think that it is clear that some community colleges need additional funding," Munson said.

Munson said until this year, the state has been giving schools less money than the formula dictated because of statewide budget woes.

With colleges such as HCC experiencing rapid enrollment growth, Munson said more financial support from the state is needed.

Barker said the state's contributions to HCC have hovered around 23 percent to 24 percent since 2004 - lower than the 25 percent it was supposed to receive.

The college received $4.9 million from the state in 2002 and 2003, and received $4.7 million in 2004, according to figures provided by HCC.

"We just had to tighten our belts and look at what we had," Barker said. "Experiencing growth and increasing costs makes it harder."

Barker said HCC was told by state officials that it would receive the full 25 percent for 2006. Ehrlich said last week that community colleges also would receive the full amount in 2007.

Ideally, the state, county and students each contribute a third of a school's revenue, Whitlow said. But school and state officials say less state money and growing enrollments force colleges to look to tuition for additional money.

"When tuition goes up, it threatens access, especially for lower-income individuals," Whitlow said.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission's most recent report shows tuition at the state's community colleges has increased 18 percent over the past five years. HCC's tuition, at $89 per credit hour, has increased 17 percent, according to the data.

This year, student tuition will account for nearly half of the school's revenue, Barker said.

Barker said HCC would know this spring exactly how much money will come from the state.

Munson said the law, if passed, would offset future tuition increases.

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