New HCC president pledges to tackle tuition increases, enrollment declines

New HCC president says she would put community college education up against any four-year school.

Dianna Phillips, the new president of Harford Community College, is well aware that much of her job is numbers driven as the school addresses declining enrollment, higher costs to students and limitations on state and county funding.

As much as she would like to, Phillips isn't making any guarantees that the student tuition and fee increases the last eight consecutive years will be eliminated during her tenure, but she plans to do everything she can to stop those them.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that we have a mindful, comprehensive look at the complete picture for tuition," she said during an interview with Aegis reporters and editors on HCC's main Bel Air campus Wednesday.

Phillips, who started work Aug. 1, has spent her first few weeks on the job getting to know the outer and inner workings of the college, including an extensive analysis of the HCC budget.

She faces the challenge of keeping tuition affordable as enrollment continues to decline.

There were 8,921 students enrolled in for-credit classes at HCC in fiscal 2016, compared to 9,555 students enrolled during fiscal 2014, according to the college website.

"I'm responsible for the sustainable operation of this college ... I'm going to have to have everything at my disposal in order to do that," Phillips said.

The most recent tuition increase of $8 per credit hour was included in the $48.3 million fiscal 2017 operating budget approved by the Board of Trustees in June. It was the last budget created by former President Dennis Golladay, who retired at the end of July after six years of leading the college.

Tuition for students who live in Harford County is $124 per credit hour; out-of-county tuition is $211 per credit hour, and out-of-state tuition is $298 per credit hour. The consolidated fee is 20 percent of in-county tuition.

The fall semester starts Monday.

"As affordable as we are, every time we raise tuition, we're raising tuition on the backs of our students," Phillips said.

Phillips noted tuition and fees make up 43 percent of HCC's annual revenues, with the remainder coming from county and state allocations.

"Forty-three percent is about as high as I ever want to go, but we also have to have the support of the state and the county," Phillips said.

She said the percentage of revenues covered by tuition and fees varies among community college systems across the country, with an average of 29 percent.

"That takes into [account] some very wide swings," depending on the level of local and state financial support, Phillips said.

Phillips served as senior staffer at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey earlier in her career – she was the CEO of University of the District of Columbia Community College before assuming the HCC presidency – and she noted a neighboring county in New Jersey got 67 percent of its revenue from tuition and fees.

She stressed her first year as HCC president "has to be about learning." She has started a six-month "listening tour," during which she will meet with people from all levels of the college community as well as the wider Harford County community.

Phillips plans to use a three-year model for budgeting, rather than the one-year model the college uses, "so that we can use some predictive analytics to help us discern where we need to go."

She is also developing a strategic enrollment plan, with as many methods as possible to promote HCC to as many segments of the local population as possible.

"I suspect there are populations that we have not been targeting that we could be targeting," Phillips said.

The college cemented a 2+2 partnership with Towson University in the fall of 2014 with the opening of the Towson University, Northeastern Maryland building on HCC's west campus. Students earn their associate's degrees at HCC and then a bachelor's degree from Towson at the TUNE building.

"I think it is absolutely a good marketing tool," Phillips said. "I think we've just begun to look at the partnerships with Towson."

She suggested a "2+2+2" partnership that incorporates local high school students by allowing them to take classes for credit at HCC and then start a degree program after high school.

College officials have already made a "substantial investment in in-depth market research," according to Brenda Morrison, HCC's vice president for external relations and human resources.

The college hired SimpsonScarborough, of Alexandria, Va., last fall to help officials develop a marketing analysis so the college can boost enrollment and retain students.

The college is also working with a consulting firm on a strategy to obtain more federal grants for programs, Morrison said.

Phillips also hopes to attract more students through HCC's multitude of continuing education programs, as well as athletic events and cultural events at the college's theater and the APG Federal Credit Union Arena.

She suggested sending instructors out into the community, or bringing professionals to the campus as guest speakers or adjunct faculty members.

"The education at this institution is very high quality," she said of HCC. "I will put it up against any of the [four-year schools] that we transfer our students to."

Phillips, who has moved to Havre de Grace, said she visited the HCC campus and parts of Harford County, such as downtown Bel Air, last year before she applied for the president's job.

"Everything that I saw in Harford County felt just like what I consider some of the best aspects of America," she said.

Phillips also praised the dedication and professionalism of board members and faculty and staff.

"The campus is beautiful, and the people are everything that a college president would ask for," she said.

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