Op-Ed: Proposed Cuts to the Community College Are Short Sighted

Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was pitched to area news media as part of the College’s outreach in response to the Commissioners proposed calendar year 2012 budget. For a full inventory of press clips on the budget cuts, visit our Think Success blog. Also, it’s not too late to let your voice be heard! Visit the County’s website to tell the Commissioners to maintain their funding to the College!

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Op-Ed: Proposed Cuts to the Community College Are Short Sighted

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

Across Montgomery County, dentists’ offices, doctors’ offices, hospitals, biotech firms, banks, schools, fire houses, police stations, restaurants, computer firms, and legislative offices are filled with Montgomery County Community College graduates.  Based on the results of a recent graduate follow-up survey, if not for Montgomery County Community College, at least half of these graduates would not have continued the education that led to their employment.  Eighty percent of those graduates cite the College’s affordable tuition as their reason for attendance.

The Calendar Year 2012 budget proposed by the Commissioners could shut out hundreds of residents from pursuing their educational dreams and career and employment goals.

In today’s economic climate, we are all carefully examining the value of a good or service before making an investment.  The Montgomery County Commissioners are performing this due diligence right now, as they work to craft the County’s 2012 budget investments.  Like all investors, they must consider the potential return on taxpayer dollars as they make difficult decisions that will impact the economic health of our County for years to come.

The proposed budget includes a $2.5 million mid-year cut to the College, taking the College’s County operating appropriation back to 2007 levels when we served 24 percent fewer students.  It reduces the County’s share of the budget from 25 percent to 21 percent, despite the County’s agreement with the College, dating back to 1964, to meet its local sponsorship commitment with the funding of 33 percent of the College’s budget.

The cut comes after the Commissioners voted in June to allocate County Calendar Year 2012 funds to support the College’s academic year 2011-2012. As a result of this commitment, the College set its 2011-2012 budgets, set tuition rates for students, and made commitments to run academic programs to meet workforce needs.

To fill the funding gap, the College will need to raise tuition for spring semester students by as much as $11 per credit hour, make painful cuts in academic programs that are important to students and our workforce partners, limit access to classes by running only the most highly enrolled course sections, limit community use of our facilities, limit free tuition opportunities for seniors, and cut personnel in critical student success service areas.

These cuts come at a time when our community needs us the most.  We are an economic and opportunity engine. Our new programs in areas such as nuclear engineering technology, waste water management training, table games training, and Citrix Academy certification are filling critical workforce shortages.  Our new transfer agreements, most recently with Bryn Mawr College, are bolstering pathways to the baccalaureate degree for thousands of students unable to afford four full years of university tuition.

Like students across the country, our students are financially strapped.  More than 30 percent are on Pell grants, earning an average family income of $13,532, below the federal poverty line for a family of two ($14,710) and four ($22,350).  More of our students are adult students, unexpectedly returning to college as unemployed workers.

Most important for our community and our graduates, we know that a Montgomery County Community College degree pays off. The average income of an associate’s degree recipient in Montgomery County at his or her career midpoint is $61,400 – 35 percent higher than someone with only a high school diploma. Throughout their working careers, our graduates see a $4.40 return for every $1 they invested in college tuition.

And the return on investment does not stop there. Their investment as employees and taxpaying residents expands our regional tax base by approximately $81.1 million, and the state and county will avoid $3.1 million in social costs per year as a result of savings associated with improved health, reduced crime, and reduced welfare and unemployment. Taxpayers, too, see a cumulative return on investment of $2.20 for every $1 invested by the state and county governments over the course of our graduates’ working careers.

Montgomery County is stronger because of its local community college and because of the County’s historically strong investment in our mission.  Now is the wrong time to shut off opportunity for thousands of students — our future workforce — and further hamper the County’s short and long term economic viability.

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