Harford Community College President Dennis Golladay sat down with two editors and a reporter from The Aegis earlier this week and talked about the college's finances and the controversy over fee increase at the Harford Sports Complex. He also provided the following essay about those issues.

Over the past few weeks, readers of The Aegis have seen several articles and editorials regarding rental rates for the summer use of athletic fields at Harford Community College and an increase in the College's tuition and fees. I would like to offer some information which may give a fuller perspective on these matters.

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The issue dealing with the rental rates for summer use of the athletic fields in the Harford Sports Complex, formerly known as Thomas Run Park, is relatively straightforward. In 1989 a plan was presented to the College's Board of Trustees to refurbish and expand the College's athletic fields for summer use by adult recreational leagues. As is true of all major capital projects at the College, funding was to come from a combination of state and county sources under College auspices. The land on which the fields existed was and is College property, and the Board of Trustees agreed to the proposal only as long as the College's operating budgets were not used for the maintenance of the fields beyond what was required for the College's athletic programs. Thus Thomas Run Park was born, and summer play began in 1990.

Initial fees charged to the adult baseball leagues were established on the basis of operational costs for summer use. Those fees remained fairly constant over the next twenty-some years despite the increasing costs required for maintenance, upkeep and the need for additional long-term renovations such as the necessary upgrade of the main baseball field. Instead of raising fees on a gradual basis, the College began to cover the increased costs through dollars from its operating budget. The recent decision to increase user fees was based on the principle of returning the fields to the self-supporting status envisioned in 1989.

The mistake made by the College was to try to close the gap all at once. Admitting the mistake, we sat down in a series of discussions with the leaders of the adult baseball leagues. I have always held that when an issue is identified, it is relatively easy to find a solution satisfactory to all parties. That is exactly what happened in this instance. The leagues recognized the need to increase fees; the College realized that any increase in fees had to occur gradually. Because we do value the leagues and want them to continue summer games on the fields, we offered lower rates than for other potential users. We now have in place an agreement for the next two years with which all parties can live, the essence of a reasonable compromise. In the coming weeks, the College and the leagues will once again sit down to create a reasonable, responsible, mutually agreeable user fee structure and schedule for the future. League leaders have stated to me that they "look forward to the continuation of the constructive discussions that led to the current agreement and are excited about the opportunity to work on a long-term arrangement between the College and the leagues that can allow these valued community programs to continue."

The need for an increase in tuition and fees is also a straightforward story. As a publicly supported institution, the College relies on three major sources of revenue: state funding, county support and tuition and fees. In the five-year period 2008-2013, the College experienced a 25 percent increase in the number of students and rising costs for virtually everything, ranging from utilities to library holdings. Because of the economic downturn, public funding was unable to keep pace at that level.

The inability of public entities to fully fund community colleges due to a decrease in revenues is understandable, but it put the College in the position of turning to an increase in tuition and fees to maintain quality education. No one likes to increase tuition, and for years Harford Community College has prided itself on having the lowest tuition of any college in the state. While affordability is a major aspect of our mission, it must be balanced by ensuring that what the students get for their tuition is a quality education which enables them to transfer readily to a four-year university or enter the job market with the requisite skills. Our students deserve no less.

A primary duty of the president and the Board of Trustees is to maintain the solid financial condition of the College to ensure that it continues to fulfill its mission. The College examines expenditures on a continuing basis and makes cuts where they can be made without damaging the programs on which the students rely. That is an ongoing process with the result that the ratio of full-time employees to students is the lowest among the state's community colleges. In other words, we're lean and still able to offer small classes and quality instruction from a superb faculty. The tuition increase projected for next year will still have the HCC cost of attendance among the lowest in the state, and attending HCC will continue to be an educational and financial bargain for our students.

Finally, as the editors of The Aegis have correctly stated, community is part of our name. It is a major tenet of our mission to be community-centric. That is one of the reasons we strove so hard and for so long to create a partnership with Towson University to bring baccalaureate degree education to the county. The result is that the Towson University Center in Northeastern Maryland at Harford Community College will open this coming fall to allow community college graduates to complete bachelor degrees without having to leave the county. That is a strong plus for the community.

Community is also a reason for the addition of the APG Federal Credit Union Arena. In addition to a new home for HCC athletic teams, the 3,200 seat arena has hosted graduation exercises for area high schools, concerts, large community meetings and other events. Since its opening in December 2012, the APGFCU Arena has served an attendance of over 61,000, making it a true community venue.

Over the years, Harford Community College has proven to be a strong and reliable asset for the community whether for a quality education, student success, cultural events or summer recreational use by community leagues - and all of us at the College are committed to ensuring that it remain so in the future.

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