Carroll Community College is at the mercy of a collection of state and county officials. None of them is from Carroll County.
That has always been the case, but the stakes are higher now. They involve almost $1 million in aid that the college needs to meet growing enrollment, said Executive Dean Joseph Shields.
The college's best hope could be Carroll County's delegation to the General Assembly, which has been supportive of the college's bid for independence and the higher costs that would accompany it.
Del. Richard N. Dixon has been especially vocal in his support, and he said Friday he hasn't given up.
"This is a very sensitive subject right now," he said, but declined to elaborate.
"I'm cautiously optimistic they will be receiving additional funds" and that the college will gain independence, Mr. Dixon said.
Dr. Shields is a little more wary; he said the current mess has made it all the more clear why the college should be independent, with a board of trustees from Carroll County making decisions about its fate.
As it stands, Dr. Shields doesn't know what to expect next year. The worst case would mean operating next year with more students, but $350,000 less than the current year's $6 million budget.
The best case would be the college getting $843,056 more in state money.
Or it could be somewhere in between.
"We don't know," he said. "We're not the ones who are going to make any of those decisions. Citizens of Carroll County aren't going to make any of them. Our fate is in the hands of other people."
Baltimore County officials do have a say, though the college "doesn't get a penny from Baltimore County," Dr. Shields said.
But because the college grew up as a branch of Catonsville Community College, it is governed by the trustees for the Baltimore County Community College.
Two recent decisions by that board could seriously affect Carroll Community College if it doesn't gain independence by July 1.
For one thing, Baltimore County has not been able to maintain its local support of the colleges at a level to qualify for state aid. That would mean a loss of $186,000 in state money for CCC, though Carroll commissioners have maintained their support.
"So here's a situation where we stand to lose state funds not because our county hasn't supported us. It's the other county," Dr. Shields said.
Carroll Community College gets 83 percent of its budget from within the county -- taxes and tuition --and 17 percent from the state.
The second decision by the Baltimore County trustees is not to allow any tuition increases. Carroll Community College, if it doesn't gain independence and the accompanying money, would need to increase tuition, Dr. Shields said.
In July, Dr. Shields and other college officials were excited about what seemed like a sure thing -- independence for the college about five years sooner than they had expected.
Independence would allow the college to get reimbursed by the state at a higher rate than it does as a branch of Catonsville.
"Every year that we are not independent, we will lose that [$843,056]," Dr. Shields said.
The suggestion to accelerate came from Secretary of Higher Education Shaila Aery herself, and indications were that the college would meet standards set by the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a private accrediting agency.
But in December, Dr. Shields started to worry when members of the Higher Education Commission began to say they didn't think they could grant Carroll independence without the assurance that they could give it the $843,056.
State coffers are low these days. And other community colleges in the state are saying they shouldn't have to give up money from their budgets to provide the extra dollars for Carroll.
That leaves three basic choices for Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly: Ignore those colleges, get the money for Carroll elsewhere, or just say no to Carroll.
Mr. Dixon remains hopeful, he said. But even if he can't get Carroll Community College the money, he said he doesn't agree with the Higher Education Commission members who believe they can't grant independence without the money.
"That's something we can negotiate with the commission," he said.