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Scholarship program for Washington County's graduating seniors 'really unaffordable'

Modeled after a similar program in Garrett County started in 2006, the program carries an estimated price tag of about $2.2 million to implement

April 23, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Jeanne Singer, left, and Dr. Mitesh Kothari, co-chairs of the Greater Hagerstown Committee's Education Forum, present a plan that would create a program that would provide money for all graduating seniors with tuition assistance and fees for two years of postsecondary education at a local institution.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Starting a scholarship program for Washington County’s graduating seniors, albeit a worthwhile venture, is not something that the county can fund in the immediate future, County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said Tuesday.

“It’s really unaffordable right now,” Callaham said. “... I truly believe all five commissioners are dedicated to education and helping young people get scholarships, if at all possible, but having said that, the budget is thin and we’re always looking for every dollar.”

Callaham’s comments came after a Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday that included a presentation by Mitesh Kothari and Jeanne Singer, co-chairs of the Greater Hagerstown Committee’s Education Forum, which proposed creating a program that would provide money for all graduating seniors with tuition assistance and fees for two years of postsecondary education at a local institution.

Washington County has been ranked as one of the lowest counties in Maryland in terms of the amount of people who have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to recent five-year estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau dated 2006-2010.

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Modeled after a similar program in Garrett County started in 2006, the program carries an estimated price tag of about $2.2 million to implement, but Singer said it isn’t likely to cost that much due to the probability of students joining the military or leaving to pursue four-year degrees.

“We think the opportunity for this program provides overcomes many of the cultural and financial barriers that the current high school seniors are experiencing,” Singer said. “Overall, it’s been a tremendous success in Garrett County, and our cultures are so similar we thought we could adopt that same program and see the same kind of results in Washington County.”

The program would utilize several higher education institutions in the county, such as Hagerstown Community College, Kaplan University, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics or the Barr Construction Institute, and would afford many students the ability to break down the barrier of “I can’t afford it,” Kothari said.

Noting that it could become a sense of community pride, Kothari said the program could also prove to be a valuable marketing tool for the county in its pursuit of attracting new business to the area.

“Having a higher educated workforce will help bring more business and more jobs to the area,” he said. “... We also know that the statistics show that if you have a higher level of education, your take-home pay is higher so you can have better living wage and a better quality of life.”

Data from Garrett County showed that more students went to college and the cost ended up being less than original anticipated, Singer said. The county also brought in more federal funding due to students taking advantage of the program being required to apply for grants, such as the PELL grant, she said.
Utilizing the same data ratios for students using the program, Singer said the cost could be a lot less than the starting point of $2.2 million, pointing to a range between $1.6 million to $2.6 million during the presentation.

The presentation was simply to begin conversations with the commissioners about implementing a program here and no formal action was taken.

“Education is just too important to ignore, and what the Greater Hagerstown Committee has brought to us is a workable plan,” Callaham said. “... We’ll just have to be really creative and supportive but we could not even begin this conversation without the great support and work that Greater Hagerstown has done on this.”

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