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A Harford County state delegate decided to kill his bill requiring public hearings prior to any Harford Community College tuition increases taking effect, after the college's president talked with him about it.
A Harford County state delegate decided to kill his bill requiring public hearings prior to any Harford Community College tuition increases taking effect, after the college's president talked with him about it. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that has since been withdrawn would have set for parameters for Harford Community College to follow before it raised tuition rates.

Del. Pat McDonough introduced a bill to "take specified actions before proposing an increase in tuition" at the college. It would have made HCC officials hold two public hearings and publish a report on its website with specific information about the increase, all before the board of trustees votes on the proposed increase.

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HCC President Dr. Dennis Golladay opposed the bill, however, and met with the Harford House delegation members in Annapolis Wednesday to ask them to withdraw the bill.

"We have what we think is plenty of opportunity," Golloday said Thursday, citing five meetings where the budget or tuition increases could be discussed, as well as information on the college's website. "There is plenty of access to meetings."

After the Annapolis meeting, McDonough said he had "a great deal" more information regarding the college's financial situation than he did and the bill was withdrawn.

What Golloday told McDonough about why there is a need to keep increasing tuition, the delegate said, is worrisome, and has him concerned about the entire state of community colleges in Maryland.

"He explained the state and the county had been reducing their funding and that has caused them to have four consecutive tuition increases, but they feel like they were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and they will have a balanced budget next year without the need for tuition hikes," McDonough said.

He said he had received a number of emails and letters from constituents and heard from them out in the public that they are concerned about tuition increases at HCC.

"I felt the delegation needed to talk about this. One of the ideas was to mandate there be at least two public meetings any time there was a proposal for a tuition increase, in two different geographical sections of the county," McDonough said. "The board would be required to explain in detail why this increase was necessary."

In January, the HCC Board of Trustees approved a $12 per credit hour increase for the 2015-16 academic year starting in the fall that will raise tuition to $116 per credit hour from $104 for in-county students. Tuition has increased by $39 per credit hour since 2010, which is 51 percent for an in-county student.

The trustees also raised the consolidated student fee by 2.6 percent prior to the current academic year and approved another 2.6 percent increase for next year, to $20.80 per credit hour for in-county students.

McDonough said Golladay did agree with him that the college does need to have better communication with the delegation and the public and agreed to be more open and transparent and "really get their message out there a little better."

Golloday justified to him the need for the recent increases, McDonough said. The HCC president, who announced last week he is retiring at the end of his contract in June 2016, told McDonough he has severe concerns about dipping into the college's rainy day fund.

"He had been hitting [it] hard," McDonough said. "I appreciate what he said, I respect his administration, but a bigger problem that his remarks had me very concerned about is not just Harford County, but the entire state, because apparently all these colleges are underfunded. They'll run out at some point."

He said the state may have to create some kind of statewide blue ribbon commission to take a look at some of the problems "these great assets are getting caught up in."

McDonough said it's too late in this legislative session to get anything done, but he intends to send a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan expressing his concerns and making his recommendations.

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The state bill was discussed during Tuesday's HCC Board of Trustees meeting and although Golladay said he was opposed to it, trustee John Haggerty said more public hearings can't hurt anything.

"There's nothing wrong with scheduling a public hearing. If people show up, fine, we'll hear them, if they don't, they were given the opportunity," Haggerty said.

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