Op-Ed: Proposed Budget Cuts Threaten Community College Access

by Dr. Karen A. Stout, President, Montgomery County Community College

“Now More than Ever” — This is the title of Montgomery County Community College’s 2012 Annual Report to the community.  It is a title reflective of the growing importance of community colleges, across this country, in being part of the solution to addressing workforce development and educational attainment gaps that are holding back the Country’s economic recovery.

It is this “now more than ever” need for community colleges that makes Wednesday night’s recommendation by the County’s CFO to the Montgomery County Commissioners to cut the allocation to the College by 25% — $5.25 million — so stunning and so potentially devastating to our community and its future viability.

In 1964, when the College was founded, the Montgomery County Commissioners were among the first in the Commonwealth to see and invest in the potential of this new invention –community colleges. Those early Commissioners committed to funding the operating and capital needs of the local community college. And, as a result of nearly 50 years of consistent and stable investment, our College has grown to be among the best in our nation, a hub for County workforce development and culture and recreation, and graduating our community’s future entrepreneurs, technologists, first responders, dental hygienists, nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers and legislators.

Over the past decade, the County’s operating share of our budget dropped from 30% to 25%.   Student tuition now comprises 50% of our budget. Ten years ago, students shouldered 35.8% of our operating costs.  The County’s announced cut will move their contribution to less than 20%, and student share will exceed 50%. The last time the County funded the College’s operating budget at this level was in 2002-2003, when we enrolled 9,000 fall credit students. Last fall, the College enrolled nearly15,000 credit students. County investment per student resident citizen has been cut nearly in half over the last decade.

County funding is essential to our community’s viability. It preserves affordable access for so many residents where Montgomery County Community College is a first choice, a second choice, perhaps a last choice, to gain access, or perhaps to stay in our country’s middle class.  It is no accident that 95% of our graduates live and work in this region.  Our students are part of the fabric of our communities and they remain part of that fabric as alumni.

This is a devastating cut – a cut that the College will manage through a combination of cost reduction strategies, including program and service cuts and careful management of personnel costs.  Unfortunately, a cut of this magnitude can’t be managed by cuts alone and will require an increase in tuition and fees. This increase could shut out financial access for residents who most need the College’s affordable programs. As one graduate noted in a recent speech to her fellow students, “One tank of gas can mean the difference between completing a degree or dropping out of college.”

Our Board of Trustees is working to develop a final 2012-2013 budget that puts the preservation of student financial access as a first priority, while also ensuring that we are capable of fulfilling our core mission. Your voice is important in helping us to work with the County to ensure strong public support as we move forward.

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