In a step designed to make college affordable for city residents, Coppin State University officials say they will offer free tuition to graduates of city public high schools who earn associate degrees from Baltimore City Community College.
The announcement comes just a week after Mayor Catherine Pugh pledged to make tuition free at BCCC for students who graduate from the city high schools beginning in spring 2018. The move by Coppin would then provide a pipeline for city public schools students who earn associates degrees to then pursue bachelor's degrees.
"I was inspired by the mayor's efforts to provide educational opportunities to students in Baltimore City," said Maria Thompson, president of Coppin. "I thought we would follow her lead and as a four-year institution pick up two years for students who want to continue their education."
Pugh believes Coppin's initiative will provide incentives for city students.
"I think that is another step in the right direction for the children of Baltimore City" she said. "It provides them the hope that any public school child can get a college education without worrying about how to get it." Students are already able to take advantage of free tuition offered at the Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, but those institutions are more difficult to gain admission to than Coppin. A large percentage of city school students must take remedial classes at college before they are prepared for credit-bearing classes.
Baltimore City School CEO Sonja Santelises said the announcement was great news.
"It builds on the mayor's commitment and it provides another trajectory for our students," she said. But with so many students arriving to college academically unprepared, the offer just emphasizes the need for city public schools "to buckle down on our job of making sure they are ready."
Thompson said many of the details of the program have yet to be worked out. For instance, she said, the university has not yet estimated how many students might take advantage of the tuition or how much it would cost. A combination of private and state dollars would be used to fund the initiative, she said. Coppin already receives private donations to help fund scholarships.
Coppin gets more transfer students out of BCCC than any other public institution in the state, according to state statistics. Eighty-eight students transferred from BCCC to Coppin in the 2014-2015 school year. The statistics don't indicate how many of those students graduated from city public schools and would have been eligible for free tuition.
Under the new program, city students who graduate from high school in 2018 and go on to earn a two-year associate's degree from BCCC could enter Coppin in 2020 and have their tuition covered. Room and board would not be covered, but Thompson said the majority of students commute to the school and don't need campus housing.
Coppin and BCCC will not have to cover students' entire tuition. Many students receive federal financial aid and other scholarships that pay for a significant portion of their tuition and fees, and either pay the remainder on their own or take out loans. The city's free tuition program at BCCC will pay the remaining portion not covered by financial aid or scholarships. Pugh estimates that will be about $1.4 million a year, a relatively small amount of the city's overall spending.
The trend to provide recent high school graduates free access to college is gaining momentum across the country. BCCC and Coppin will be just two of about 200 institutions doing so.
BCCC estimates that hundreds more students might attend the community college because of Mayor Pugh's initiative, which in turn would send more students to Coppin. Only 250 recent city school graduates went to the community college, but that might grow to as many as 1,000, according to estimates by BCCC officials.
Both higher education institutions have struggled to maintain enrollment and graduation rates in recent years. BCCC has lost many students to community colleges in neighboring counties. Coppin's graduation rate, while improved, is only at 19 percent, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Just 3.3 percent of students graduated from BCCC in the 2014-2015 school year. Another 11 percent transferred to a four-year college.