Thanks to another one-time grant from the state, tuition increases at Harford Community College will be held to 2 percent in the 2018-19 academic year. College officials say, however, they don't know when the steady run of annual increases might end.
When asked that question during a review of the college's next funding allotment from Harford County by County Council members Monday, HCC President Dianna Phillips said the college is doing what it can to contain costs, but state funding continues to lag behind what she called the "traditional" mix of one-third student tuition and fees, one-third county and one-third state.
"We're less than one percent of the total state budget for higher education," Phillips said, referring to all the state's 16 community colleges.
Phillips said tuition increases for next year will be capped at 2 percent, as they were this year, under incentive grant funding provided by Gov. Larry Hogan.
She also said HCC will be experimenting with a "bring your own device" initiative, because technology obsolescence is too costly and students often are ahead of the curve when it comes to buying the most up-to-date digital devices.
"We need to leverage our technology resources without having to invest hard dollars in computer labs that become obsolete in five years," she said.
Harford County Public Schools began a "bring your own technology" initiative several years ago. Under pressure from some community leaders and elected officials, however, the school system has since embarked on a multi-year program to provide a computer to every student, even though that program also has received criticism over the cost versus replacement issue.
HCC has between 8,500 and 9,000 full-time equivalent students, although enrollment has not been stable in recent years and has been identified by HCC officials as a reason why they have had to raise tuition every year since 2010.
Next year's HCC tuition rates will be $129 per credit hour for in-county residents; $219.52 for Maryland residents outside of Harford County and $310.04 for non-Maryland residents. The current in-county rate is $126.48 per credit hour, a difference of $2.42.
The consolidated fee, charged at 20 percent of the in-county tuition, will be $25.80 per credit hour.
Phillips said the state incentive funds will still result in a net revenue reduction of about $130,000 that is being absorbed elsewhere in the budget.
When she submitted her proposed $50.1 million FY 2019 budget to the HCC Board of Trustees in December, Phillips proposed an across-the-board tuition increase of 2.7 percent.
At the time, she also said she expected a slight gain in total enrollment in the coming year, but in February, college officials reported enrollment for the spring semester this year had declined by 6.7 percent year over year.
Phillips blamedthe decline on a loss of part-time students and what she called "competitive disadvantages" with other two-year colleges in the areas of registration technology and the amount of time it takes students to earn an associate's degree. She said Monday that HCC is still working to improve online registration and other services and will be redesigning its website.
Harford County is providing HCC with $16,811,612 to fund its operations next year, an increase of $400,000. Phillips said they expect to receive an additional $409,000 in basic state funding, bringing the state share of the budget to $11.8 million. HCC's final budget will be set by the trustees in the coming weeks, now that outside funding sources are known.
During her appearance before the council, Phillips mentioned at least twice that HCC officials had asked County Executive Barry Glassman to give them enough funding for "wage parity" with county employees, but she was not asked to elaborate.
Earlier this month, Glassman, who is funding a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, plus a 2 percent merit-based raise for county government employees, said he did not honor the HCC request, calling it "a slippery slope," since county funding is only one component of the college's annual revenue.
Phillips told the County Council members the county funding will be about 34 percent of total revenue next year, compared with 42 percent from student tuition and fees, 22 percent from the state and 2 percent from other sources.
In addition to operational funding, the county and state are funding $5.8 million for the renovation of Fallston Hall, with $2.8 million to come from the county, according to the county's capital budget for FY 2019.
Despite the latest tuition increase, Phillips said HCC's costs fall "in the middle" of the state's community colleges and are competitive with those of Community College of Baltimore County and Cecil College.
Phillips said HCC officials took a "bottom-up approach" to setting the latest budget, making "data informed decisions," while following guiding principles that they are a student centered institution.
"We make decisions with the best interests of our students in mind," she said.
One of the FY 2019 budget initiatives is to improve campus security communications, Phillips said. Last summer, there was an incident where a person with a gun was reported on campus, which caused a large police response, though no one with a gun was ever found.
She also said the college administration continues to study "foundation components to building a college of the future."
Phillips said she considers the county a "partner" in making HCC "the anchor higher education institution in Harford County," working also with the public school system, Aberdeen Proving Ground and the business community.