Equity in education has been at the center of discussion for the K-12 state funding formula recently, and the same standard should apply to our higher education institutions. Recently, allegations of fiscal impropriety were hurled at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) by the state government, and the BCCC administration responded with defensiveness and dismissiveness — a now familiar exchange that only serves to reinforce an increasingly fraught status quo that does not serve BCCC’s students, staff, faculty or our city’s communities. We need better, from both Annapolis and BCCC administrators, and we can’t afford to wait; the graduation rate from BCCC is a dismal 3.3 percent, and the school nearly lost accreditation in 2014. One consequence is that many bright prospective students do not see BCCC as a viable option; thousands are forced to travel farther and pay more at other schools to get a quality education.
To make BCCC the community-sustaining institution Baltimore deserves, we need to get to the root of the mounting problems facing the institution. I propose the following four-step plan, and call on leaders in our neighborhoods and from higher ed, labor and youth advocacy circles to join in demanding a top-to-bottom revitalization of the college.
First, we need real accountability. For years, BCCC has been an institution in limbo, with too few proactive, consistent advocates in Annapolis, and zero local oversight. That’s because like so many Baltimore agencies, BCCC is controlled by the state, not the city. We need to return BCCC to local control, with a dedicated stream of state funding, so that it is responsive to the communities it serves.
Second, and most importantly, we need to invest in the people — faculty and staff — who serve BCCC’s students so diligently every day. We need to make sure they win the raises they deserve, having received only one during the last three years. We also need to end the practice of balancing the school’s budget on the backs of contracted employees who work just under full-time but receive no benefits and are excluded from union protection. And we need to build a faculty — not of part-time adjuncts shuttling from one campus to another across the region to make ends meets, but of full-time, tenure-track professionals, who are compensated as their expertise warrants. By investing in BCCC’s faculty and staff, we will produce better learning outcomes and a more stable workforce.
Third, we need visionary leadership. With President May’s imminent departure, the Board of Trustees should conduct a transparent search for BCCC’s next leader, starting immediately. We need someone with a track record of transformational success who understands the unique problems facing Baltimore. While we need to be sure the college’s next president has the resources to revitalize the school, we also need to hold him or her to a higher standard; endangered accreditation and the lowest graduation rate of any community college in the state are unacceptable outcomes – along with city residents paying out-of-county fees to attend other community colleges with more program choice and better reputations.
Finally, we need to work with allies across the state to move toward a tuition-free public higher education system for all graduates of Maryland high schools. As one of the richest states in the country, we can afford it, and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly indicate that a better-educated work force enriches us all. By asking those who have previously benefited from higher education to “pay it forward,” we can ensure our state’s future is prosperous. When our youth graduate debt free, we all win. That’s why I am proud to support the Maryland Higher Education Equity Act, an ambitious legislative package that would do just that. Maryland can and should lead in implementing the vision of tuition-free higher education that is sweeping the nation.
For too long, politicians in Annapolis have failed to help as BCCC struggled, punishing the school’s students, faculty and staff, who hold none of the blame for the administration’s shortcomings and all of the responsibility for making the college run day in and day out. Baltimore deserves higher education that serves the greater good, but we will only get it if we work to hold both BCCC administrators and elected officials in Annapolis to a higher standard. The reality is that BCCC can become a premiere higher education option for all high school graduates and adult learners in Baltimore. Achieving that goal starts with enacting real accountability.
Joshua Harris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former journalist who works in communications; he was the Green Party candidate for Baltimore mayor in 2016.