Faced with limited state funding, Howard Community College officials this week began their 1989 budget campaign, asking the County Council for the second year in a row to provide more money to help keep down tuition increases.
College President Dwight A. Burrill said the two-year college expects costs for the current program to increase $1.4 million, or 13.5 percent, next year. This year's budget is $10.5 million.
Yet Maryland officials already have warned community colleges to expect only a minor increase in state funding, Burrill said. The state approved $2.7 million for Howard Community College for this year, but the school may not receive much more in the 1989 budget, Burrill said.
That means, he said, that the county government must increase its funding or that tuition, already the highest in the state, must go up again. The school may be forced to seek both forms of increase.
Without a large cash infusion from the county, tuition may increase by $4 to $5 per credit hour next year, from the current $40, if the current level of services is maintained, Burrill said.
Burrill delivered his budget forecast Tuesday at a board of trustees meeting with the County Council. The community college is expected to submit its proposed 1989 operating budget in January to County Executive Elizabeth Bobo.
County officials, after hearing a similar financial plea, "pulled our bacon out of the fire" for the current year, said Edward L. Cockran, a member of the board of trustees.
In a packed room of college students, the council in May voted to restore $400,000 after Bobo had cut $763,000 from the college's proposed budget.
Even so, the community college had to increase tuition for this year, from $35 to $40 per credit hour.
In the past six years, Howard County has increased its spending for the school by almost 57 percent. During that same period, tuition fees rose nearly 67 percent, Burrill said.
At Tuesday's breakfast meeting, county officials, while generally supportive, said Howard residents are becoming impatient with large annual increases in education spending.
Last year's tuition raise "is something people can't forget," said council member Charles Feaga.
Feaga said the increase was a bitter pill because education costs are climbing faster than the rate of inflation, which has been 3 percent for the past three years.
But County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said Howard residents want quality education and are willing to pay for it.
"When the house is on fire, you don't ask how it got started, you just put it out," Gray said.
County officials may even consider a property tax increase to help pay for higher education costs, Gray said. This spring, the county approved a 22-cent tax rate increase.
The big question mark for community colleges is state funding, which has not been increasing as fast as costs during the past decade, Burrill said.
"There is a gradual and insidious drift away from state funds and more toward local funds -- county and tuition," Burrill told the breakfast audience.
The lower proportion of state funding comes at a time of higher enrollment at Howard Community College, Burrill said. More than 3,700 students attend the college, up from 2,400 in 1978.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer has proposed a 16 percent increase in higher education spending in the next two years, but funding for community colleges is to rise only 2.7 percent, Burrill said.