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Commissioners favor more funding for HCC

April 29, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Facing steep enrollment growth and the addition of new programs, Hagerstown Community College has requested a 4 percent increase in funding from Washington County.

A majority of the Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday they supported the requested increase, though they will not vote on the funding until after a May 14 public hearing on the proposed county budget.

"I don't have a problem with 4 percent in light of what's happening out there," Commissioners President John F. Barr said.

The college's enrollment grew 13 percent this term, HCC President Guy Altieri said. That's more new students for the spring term at HCC than the total number enrolled at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, Altieri said.

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The college asked for about $9 million from the county for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1. That would be up almost $350,000 from this fiscal year's funding of about $8.7 million.

The county provides about 30 percent of the college's funding. Another 25 percent comes from the state, about 44 percent from student tuition and fees, and about 1 percent from other revenue, such as private donations.

The college is raising student tuition $2 per credit next year, from $96 to $98 per credit, Altieri said.

During a lunch meeting Tuesday between the commissioners and the college's Board of Trustees, Altieri spoke about the college's latest initiatives and how the college stretches its budget dollars.

The college's enrollment growth is fueled by increasing numbers of "traditional" students, age 20 and younger, Altieri said. That category surpassed the number of students 21 and older in fall 2007, he said.

"I think word is getting out that without an education beyond high school, there really aren't good opportunities out there," Altieri said.

The college has dozens of transfer and dual-admission agreements that allow students to complete their degrees at USM-H and other area universities after attending HCC, he said.

There also is a high demand now for occupational and career education programs, Altieri said. The college is expanding its truck driving and health-care programs in close partnership with local employers, he said.

The college also has been securing funds to build its biotechnology program and working to attract biotech firms to the area, Altieri said.

The college keeps its costs low by utilizing student workers, campus volunteers and part-time faculty, Altieri said. Regular, full-time employees make up only about 27 percent of the college's work force, he said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the college had taken a "frugal approach" to its budget, and said the 4 percent increase was reasonable, noting given the projected enrollment growth, the college actually would be getting fewer county dollars per full-time equivalent student than this year.

The college needs the additional funding to help cover rising health-care costs, the hiring of additional faculty to keep up with enrollment growth and a "modest salary increase" that will average 3 percent, according to budget request documents.

The college also has requested about $5 million next fiscal year under the county's Capital Improvement Plan to go toward construction of a $36.4 million arts and sciences complex, Altieri said. Over the four-year project, the college is requesting a total of $13.9 million from the county for the complex, he said.

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