The Maryland State Board of Community Colleges is scheduled today to consider proposing that the state General Assembly increase grants to two-year schools by $15 million, including new subsidies based on the number of low-income students enrolled at the schools.
The proposed increases are an attempt to stabilize the state's 17 community colleges, which face reductions in state funding because of dropping enrollments of full-time students, and to bolster schools such as the Community College of Baltimore that are in poorer subdivisions, officials said.
The board is considering disbursing funds to all local jurisdictions according to the number of students receiving Pell grants, federal grants based on income. All 17 colleges would receive $150,000 for each such student. Currently 14,144 of the 105,573 students enrolled receive Pell grants. Most attend schools in Baltimore City and in Prince George's and Allegany counties, officials said.
"It is a good remedy for the problems we now have," said James D. Tschechtlin, executive director of the state board.
The state board proposal is one of two likely to be considered in the upcoming General Assembly session. A joint committee composed of state delegates and senators is also looking at the funding issue.
Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), chairman of that committee, said he believes the board's proposal will further exaggerate discrepancies between rich and poor counties and that he expects a counterproposal by his committee within two weeks.
Community colleges receive up to 50 percent of their funding from the state, about a third from their local government and the rest from tuition.
Both efforts were spurred by a recent break in community college enrollment that has left the colleges scraping for funds and students. Maryland's first community college, Hagerstown Junior College, was founded 38 years ago as a local springboard to four-year institutions for students who are not financially or academically ready to make the jump right after high school.
Community colleges no longer serve that purpose, enrollment figures indicate. In the past decade, the colleges increasingly have become career-training centers for workers taking a couple courses to help them in their jobs; more than two-thirds of all community college students are part-time.
But the state's funding formula, which is based on the equivalent of full-time enrollment, has not kept pace with the transformation, college officials said.
When enrollment was booming, the colleges were able to pull in enough part-time students to compensate for their loss. In the last couple of years, with the "baby-boom" generation finally out of school and more high school graduates immediately joining the work force, enrollment has dropped off -- and once-thriving two-year colleges have found their state support doing likewise.
"We're simply making do," said Robert Hardwick, assistant to the president of Prince George's Community College. Prince George's has resorted to raising student tuitions -- $20 a credit hour in the last decade -- because under TRIM, which set a cap on property tax revenues, the county was unable to pick up even its share.
"Part-time students generate less state aid . . . but our overhead electricity, books, salaries , whether they're full-time or part-time, has remained the same," he said.
Of the 105,573 students attending community colleges across the state, 46,292 are in Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
At Anne Arundel Community College, total fall enrollment dropped by 1.5 percent this year. However, because more part-time than full-time students enrolled, a formula called "full-time equivalency" showed a 6.3 percent drop in enrollment. Using that figure, the state cut its funding to the college by $303,000.
The college reduced four teachers' contracts to one-semester and terminated three others to compensate for the loss.
Full-time equivalency is derived by taking the total number of credit hours for a school year and dividing it by 30, the minimum number of hours a student must take to qualify as full-time under state guidelines. Under the formula, it would take five part-time students carrying a single class to equal one full-time student.
College officials argue that they still have processing and other costs that actually make a part-time student more expensive than a full-time student, but the part-time student brings them less state aid.
"My argument is we have a formula that is insensitive to that and it's unforgiving," said Thomas Florestano, president of Anne Arundel Community College.
Although Florestano and other community college presidents said they would like the state to use the equivalency formula as a guideline rather than as the main factor in determining the bulk of state aid, all have agreed to the board's proposal.
A cornerstone in their agreement was a compromise on "equity funding," or how more money could be funneled into poorer subdivisions less able to support their local schools. Earlier this fall, the board proposed flat grants to such counties as Allegany and Prince George's and to Baltimore City to compensate for a lack of local funding.
The idea behind disbursing funds based on the students receiving grants, Tschechtlin said, is that a greater share would go to poorer jurisdictions without excluding large jurisdictions at a time of widespread need.
Also, under the proposal, the state would double its $270,000 flat grant to each college, increase its payment for part-time students from $14 to $24 and increase the amount of money it pays under the equivalency formula by $120, to $1,030 per full-time student or its equivalent.
Finally, the proposal calls for giving community colleges the same percentage of cost adjustments awarded to four-year colleges and universities to keep up with inflation.