Editorial: Harford Community College should be cautious about building and how it affects tuition

As the cost of a college education has pushed ever upward, Harford Community College has been seen increasingly as a bargain, and legitimately so.

For a fraction of what it costs per credit hour at most four-year colleges, even four-year state colleges, HCC students can get their basic credits and familiarize themselves with a college routine. While the price is lower, the quality of the education isn't.

Lately, Harford Community College has embarked upon a building regimen that will result in about $40 million being spent through 2014. The largest share of this, $26 million, went for a rebuild of the Susquehanna Center that includes the new APGFCU Arena, the largest indoor public venue in the region. The cost of this will be offset, to some degree, by APG Federal Credit Union's having purchased the naming rights by pledging to pay $50,000 a year for 15 years.

It's no small sum. The credit union is generous to have given it, and the college is lucky to have it. Still, it constitutes $750,000 of the $26 million cost of the facility.

Harford Community College, like any institution of higher learning, needs to ensure its facilities are up to date and in good working order. There's reason to believe the college's building projects to date have been in line with what's needed to provide a solid college foundation for the next few generations.

There's also reason to urge caution. A few years back, the college began a series of planned tuition increases that have added a few dollars per year to each credit hour. This is part of the reason the college has had the money to build up the campus, and has been done in such a way that tuition at HCC remains a bargain compared not only to state and private institutions but also to other community colleges.

There is a danger, however, that given the paths followed by many colleges, the tuition increases could continue. A trend in higher education has been to recruit students and encourage them, or their families, to take on college loans to cover the cost of high tuition.

Certainly, college campuses have prospered because of the increases, but the burden of student debt is something more students are wary of.

Moreover, if community colleges in general, and Harford Community College in particular, see fit to keep up with their four-year and post-graduate fellow institutions in terms of how much they charge for tuition, we may well end up with even more building at Harford Community College.

Unfortunately, the cost to society of ever-increasing tuition is that a solid college education is something that will be realistic for fewer and fewer people, and that's a potential formula for disaster for both the individual American Dream, and the prospects for the nation as a whole.

Before Harford Community College embarks on any new building projects, its leadership would do well to make sure they're still providing the affordable college learning opportunities for the people in the community the school was established to serve.

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