Tuition-assistance proposal modeled after Garrett County, Md. program

October 06, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Students walk across campus at Hagerstown Community College on Thursday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Two years ago, when Dr. Mitesh Kothari and local attorney Jeanne Singer became co-chairs of the Greater Hagerstown Committee’s Education Forum, they decided they wanted to tackle a meaningful project.

So they brainstormed with forum members, who are representatives from local educational institutions, and gathered data to devise an annual educational report card for the community. The issue that came to the forefront, they said, was the low percentage of people with post-secondary education among Washington County residents.

Last winter, Singer said, the forum turned its attention to a major barrier to post-secondary education — cost.

As a result, the Greater Hagerstown Committee — a civic organization whose mission is to identify community needs so its members can use their expertise as a “catalyst for consensus and change” — recently proposed the idea of a tuition-assistance program for Washington County high school graduates, including those from public and private schools and home-schooled students.

The proposal is to guarantee funding for the equivalent of a two-year associate degree based on the tuition cost at Hagerstown Community College, although the funds could be used for other academic, technical and vocational educational institutions in Washington County, Greater Hagerstown Committee Executive Director James Kercheval said.

The committee shared the idea with the public at its Sept. 28 meeting, inviting the Washington County Commissioners, school board members and state lawmakers who represent the county.

The tuition-assistance proposal is modeled after a program in Garrett County, Md., which is funded through the Garrett County government and has experienced success, Greater Hagerstown officials said.

The proposed Washington County program is not meant to “happen tomorrow,” but the idea was to give the Washington County Board of Commissioners a chance to learn about it, get comfortable with it and see if there is county support, including financial support, for the idea, Kercheval said.

The $2.2 million the committee listed as the amount to fund the program is a conservative estimate based on every student in the public school system’s recent graduating class getting a county scholarship, something the committee co-chairs said they wouldn’t expect to happen.

Even so, “We don’t think the county’s going to have to come up with the whole amount,” said Kothari, who noted the project “may be a public-private partnership.” 

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