Baltimore City Community College chief opposes putting school under University System of Maryland

Baltimore City Community College president opposes folding school into University System of Maryland

The president of Baltimore City Community College told lawmakers Tuesday that he opposes a recommendation that the school join into the University System of Maryland.

Gordon May, who has led BCCC for the past two years, said the school is making progress in the face of recent enrollment declines and accreditation troubles.

"The last thing we need is a structural or governmental overhaul," May said at a joint hearing of the state Senate and House of Delegates spending committees.

May was responding to an August report by the Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore, which called for sweeping changes in how the community college is run. The General Assembly directed the center to investigate persistent problems at the only state-run community college in Maryland.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the body that accredits BCCC, placed the school on "warn" status in 2014. The commission said the school didn't have a well-developed strategic plan, had published incorrect or outdated information in some student materials, and needed a better self-assessment process.

The warning was lifted the following year.

The Schaefer Center made 12 recommendations. May rejected the two most sweeping: bringing the college under the university system and replacing its Board of Trustees with a Board of Visitors that would include city officials, business leaders and representatives of the Baltimore school system.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, expressed determination to act on the Schaefer Center recommendations.

"Let me assure you this year they won't end up on the shelf," McIntosh said. She said reforms at BCCC would be her No. 1 issue in the legislative session that begins in January.

The Schaefer Center produced a list of problems at BCCC.

The center said declines in enrollment haven't been matched by cuts to staff. Enrollment for credit dropped 28 percent between 2012 and 2015, but the number of regular employees dropped only 8 percent.

Ann Cotten, director of the Schaefer Center, said many students from Baltimore choose to enroll in the Community College of Baltimore County, even though its tuition is higher. She said city residents make up 28 percent of the county college's students.

Cotten said BCCC does not have the strong relationships with local government seen at other community colleges around the state.

"The college is not connected to Baltimore City in a meaningful way," she said.

Cotten said BCCC faces unique challenges among the state's community colleges because up to 95 percent of its entering students need remedial instruction.

Former state Higher Education Secretary Patricia S. Florestano was a research adviser on the report.

If BCCC were made a part of the University System of Maryland, she said, the community college could gain political clout in Annapolis it doesn't have as an independent entity.

She said the system could also support infrastructure, procurement and information technology at the college.

"It doesn't appear that marginal changes are going to bring about the results that are needed," she said.

Laslo Boyd, another former higher education secretary who worked on the study, expressed disappointment in the college administration's response to the report.

"This looks reasonably close to being an administration in denial about the magnitude of the problems," he said.

Several legislators expressed skepticism about or opposition to placing the community college under the university system.

Del. Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said she was "very much opposed" to the idea.

May said the main reason he opposes such a move is that "flexibility would be lessened."

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, asked university system Chancellor Robert L. Caret whether he favored the Schaefer Center's recommendation.

"I think that's a question the legislature has to answer," Caret said. "Logic may lead you in one direction and politics may lead you in another direction."

mdresser@baltsun.com

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