GBC’s Fry: Community college funding

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Maryland’s community college system is an important part of our state’s higher education system and a critical resource for business growth.

Maryland’s 16 community colleges teach 62 percent of the state’s high school graduates who attend college in Maryland.

During the next decade, Maryland’s focus on preparing more public school students for college-level work is projected to increase demand for student enrollment at community colleges by as much as 34 percent.

Enrollment at Maryland’s community colleges is already at an all-time high. Community colleges across the state are currently using 71 temporary classroom buildings.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 80 percent of the fastest growing jobs in today’s economy require some form of college education. In Maryland, community colleges are the primary providers of workforce training programs for industry.

Why do I bring this up? Because this key cog in Maryland’s education system is in need of a funding boost. Maryland’s community colleges continue to teach more than half of the state’s public-college undergraduates, yet they receive less than 10 percent of the state’s funding for capital improvements.

Meanwhile, the state government’s contribution to community college operating costs has decreased, as a percentage of total system operating costs, in the last four years. Local governments and students have borne an increasing share of costs. If this trend is not reversed, access to community colleges could be denied to many Marylanders in the future, according to education advocates.

Maryland’s community college system has proposed two straightforward solutions to these challenges.

It is asking state legislators to increase the annual bond authorization for community colleges by $382 million in capital improvement requests over the next five years – or $76.4 million per year.

Lawmakers are also being asked to adjust the state formula for community college funding upward by 1 percent per year for the next five years to add an average of about $7 million in state funding per year for most community colleges.

Considering the key role community colleges play in Maryland’s workforce development, these requests are neither complicated nor unreasonable.

Let’s hope that, amid the cacophony of competing agendas and funding requests in Annapolis this year, state lawmakers focus on community college needs and find a way to act favorably in support of this efficient and effective education resource.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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