College students rally

Students from community colleges and private schools rallied in Annapolis Thursday to urge approval of the governor's higher education budget, which includes money for student aid. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / February 9, 2012)

Jonathan Jayes-Green graduated near the top of his high school class but couldn't afford to attend the four-year colleges that accepted him. Now he's an honor student at two-year Montgomery College, and he'd like to head off cuts to the school's budget.

The second-year student from Silver Spring was one of hundreds from Maryland's community and independent colleges rallied in Annapolis and lobbied legislators Thursday to avert cuts in Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed higher education spending.

Students from Maryland's 16 community colleges, 14 private institutions of higher learning and one public university fanned out across the capital to buttonhole legislators and tell their stories. The lobbying effort was organized by the Maryland Independent College and University Association, the Maryland Association of Community Colleges and Morgan State University.

Tia Holmes of Fort Washington said she wanted to protect the operating and capital budgets at Prince George's Community College, where she is a student.

"We want the students to have an opportunity and not have to decide whether they're going to pay for their food or go to college," she said.

Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard said the main focus was to preserve the spending O'Malley proposed, rather than to seek increases or new legislation. She called the rally "a wonderful experience" for the students who took the day off to come to Annapolis.

"The most important thing they did is tell their stories," Pollard said. "They made real the stories of community college students."

Six students came from the Notre Dame University of Maryland in Baltimore.

Musee Olani, a second-year student from Baltimore County, said he hopes to see capital funding for a new building housing the university's education and nursing schools preserved.

Candace Caraco, special assistant to the university president, said the school is almost ready to break ground on the $22.6 million building, for which $4 million in state funds would leverage the remainder in private investments, producing 278 jobs.

Michael.dresser@baltsun.com