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Group proposes Washington County tuition-aid program

September 28, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Dr. Mitesh Kothari, left, and Jeanne Singer, co-chairs of the Greater Hagerstown Committee Education Forum, gave a presentation Friday on college and career readiness and a proposal to provide tuition assistance to every graduating Washington County high school senior.
By Andrew Schotz

A local group has recommended that Washington County help pay for every county high school graduate to go to college locally.

The proposal, made Friday at a Greater Hagerstown Committee meeting, is based on a similar program started six years ago in Garrett County, Md.

There, 44 percent of the 2011 graduating seniors attended Garrett College, according to the Greater Hagerstown Committee Education Forum, which has been studying college and career readiness in Washington County.

The Education Forum estimated that a tuition assistance program could cost about $2.2 million in Washington County, depending on how it is structured.

However, factors such as the relatively lower cost of attending community college in Washington County could lower the cost estimate, the education group determined.

The estimate was based on providing $1,400 per student multiplied by 1,552, the number of graduates in Washington County in 2011.

Education Forum co-chairs Jeanne Singer and Dr. Mitesh Kothari said during their presentation that the benefits of the program — raising the level of education in the community and creating a more-educated work force — would outweigh the costs.

During the meeting, Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri agreed with that reasoning and said he supports the proposal.

“Clearly, it’s affordable,” he said.

The tuition assistance idea has been floated in the county before.

Former Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz raised it as part of his candidate platform in 2006, the last time he ran for a commissioners seat. He called for the county to put $2 million in a scholarship fund so all graduating Washington County high school seniors could go to HCC tuition-free, if they keep at least a C average.

At the time, Swartz said he also had supported the idea when he served as a county commissioner from 1998 to 2002.

Altieri mentioned Swartz on Friday, saying the time was not right then for such a proposal, but it is right now.

Singer and Kothari emphasized that they are not pressing the county commissioners to fund a tuition assistance program now. Rather, they said, the Greater Hagerstown Committee wants elected officials to consider the idea and talk about how it would help Washington County.

Ruth Anne Callaham was the only current Washington County commissioner at Friday’s presentation.

During a phone interview later in the day, Callaham said she thinks the proposal “has great merit.”

But she said, the commissioners generally prefer programs that help people help themselves.

She’d rather see a program in which the county provides part of the amount if organizers can leverage other scholarship support.

The Education Forum’s recommended guidelines say scholarship recipients must:

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  • be Washington County residents for at least two years;
  • start school within a year of getting a high school diploma or enrolling in the ESSENCE program in which high school students earn college credits;
  • maintain at least a 2.0 GPA;
  • not use the scholarship money for repeated courses.
In the Garrett County program, students have to apply for federal Pell Grants and other scholarships before they can pursue the county scholarship.

The Education Forum co-chairs noted that the Washington County commissioners could adapt the program in ways such as providing less money, limiting scholarships to HCC or targeted fields of study, or coming up with a new minimum GPA.

The Education Forum focused on the scholarship idea while taking a broader look at higher education in the area.

The report card it presented shows that Washington County is 19th of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland for bachelor’s degrees — 18.7 percent of county residents at least 25 years old have one, compared to the state average of 28.5 percent.

Washington County is 20th for attaining high school diplomas — 83.4 percent of residents at least 25 years old have one.

The report card also has charts showing that the more education a person has, the greater his or her chance is of having a high-paying job.

One section shows that for a person to afford a one-bedroom apartment with utilities, a cell phone, basic cable TV, a used car and health insurance, with few extras, he or she would need a job paying at least $16.25 an hour, slightly more than the average wage of a high school graduate.
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