Proposed Harford Community College budget for 2019 includes $3 per credit increase

Harford Community College students should prepare for another tuition increase next year, as the college administration is recommending a $3.52 per-credit-hour increase for in-county students as part of a proposed $51.3 million operating budget for fiscal year 2019.

HCC President Dianna Phillips’ proposed operating and capital budget requests for fiscal 2019 were presented to the HCC Board of Trustees Tuesday evening.

The $51.3 million proposed operating budget is 4.77 percent higher than the $49.02 million budget for the current fiscal year. Phillips and her aides propose spending $2.3 million more next year, with much of the new money going to a 4 percent salary increase for full and part-time employees ($1.2 million) and a 2 percent increase in health care costs ($80,000), according to budget documents.

The $6.9 million capital request includes funds for investments in technology, adding to and renovating buildings, such as Fallston Hall, and improvements to infrastructure on the main Bel Air campus, according to budget documents.

The trustees will discuss and vote on the budget in January. In addition to student tuition and fees, funding is contingent on revenue from the county and state governments.

The board will adopt the college’s final budget in the spring once Harford County and the state have finalized their budgets.

“This is what we’re asking the county and state to let us do,” board Chair Richard Norling said.

Tuition increases

Phillips and her staff recommend a 2.7 percent tuition increase, meaning students who live in Harford County would pay $130 per credit hour; those who live outside Harford would pay $221.21 per credit, and out-of-state students would pay $312.42, according to figures presented Tuesday.

Phillips recommends keeping the consolidated student fee at 20 percent of in-county tuition.

Tuition and fees make up the largest portion of revenue, projected at 41.9 percent for fiscal 2019, compared to 22.3 percent from the state, 34.3 percent from the county and 1.5 percent from "other" sources, such as grants.

The administration does not propose any transfers from fund balance, or cash reserves, according to budget documents.

State funding has been "relatively flat" in recent years, and county funding was "flat or downward sloping" from 2009 to 2015, Steve Phillips, senior associate vice president for finance and operations, said.

Phillips said local funding has increased under County Executive Barry Glassman, who increased the local allocation for the current fiscal year by $850,000, or 5.4 percent.

“As a result of the uncontrollable public funding, you can see that the difference needs to be made up in the form of tuition,” Phillips told the trustees.

It’s a familiar story at HCC, where 2 to 3 percent tuition increases have been the norm over the past decade.

Phillips, however, said HCC tuition would remain affordable, compared to other community colleges and four-year schools in Maryland, where he said HCC ranks eight out of 16 among community colleges for tuition and fees.

College officials do not expect a “one-time” allocation of additional funds from the state next year, Brenda Morrison, chief of staff and vice president for external relations and communications, said.

Community colleges received a one-time supplemental grant from Gov. Larry Hogan last year to encourage them to keep tuition increases for in-county students to 2 percent or lower.

HCC received about $192,000 in one-time funds, according to budget documents, and college officials, in turn, capped their tuition increase at 2 percent. That will not be the case next year, though.

“This year, we’re actually starting a little bit in the hole,” Morrison said.

The college has raised tuition each year since 2010, with leaders typically citing enrollment declines as a driving factor.

A slight increase in enrollment is projected next year, though, with a 2 percent increase in for-credit hours and a 3 percent increase in non-credit continuing education enrollment.

“We are slowing the enrollment decline,” Phillips said.

Officials project $21.5 million in revenue from tuition and fees, a nearly 6 percent increase from the amount budgeted for the current year, according to budget documents.

They also expect $11.4 million from the state — a 1.64 percent decrease — plus $17.6 million from the county, a 7.31 percent increase of $1.2 million from the current year’s budget.

Greater local funding is based on “parity” with a projected 4 percent salary increase for county employees, Morrison said.

The HCC request would be adjusted depending on what salary increase, if any, Glassman proposes for county employees in fiscal 2019, Norling said.

He said a desired salary increase for college employees would match any increases proposed for county employees.

“We’re asking the county to help us do those raises,” Norling said.

Trustee John Haggerty took issue with the proposed tuition increases, in light of prior enrollment declines.

“If we were voting tonight, I’d say I’m absolutely opposed to this budget,” he said. “I don’t know how we can do this all the time.”

Trustee James Valdes, a former board chair, said the tuition increases reflect economic and demographic conditions in Harford County, such as flat population growth.

“The chickens come home to roost, and you ultimately have to face financial reality and do it,” Valdes said.

Haggerty also suggested HCC follow the University of Baltimore’s lead in combating enrollment declines with drastic measures such as a hiring freeze, pay cuts and employee furloughs, as reported by The Baltimore Sun.

Phillips, however, said HCC and other community colleges have a different funding model than the University of Baltimore.

“The way community colleges are funded here in Maryland, we are funded by the state, by the county and tuition and fees,” she said. “The only part of that equation that we have any control over is the tuition and fees.”

She said she is “very cognizant” of the college’s current “business model,” and she and her top aides are looking into other possibilities for business models for HCC.

Phillips stressed that “we have to start looking deep into our operations as an institution and make sure that we are operating as an institution as efficiently and effectively as we can,” before considering other business models.

“I feel like, all things being equal in this budget, we have done our due diligence to bring you the best possible budget that we could put together,” she told the trustees.

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