Officials at Baltimore County's three community colleges -- the state's largest system -- are discussing tuition increases for nearly 23,000 students, after a drop this semester in enrollment and a projected $2.8 million loss in tuition revenue.
"We will examine tuition rate increases very closely for fiscal year 1997," said Vincent R. Coleianne, interim vice chancellor for finance and administration of the system that governs campuses at Essex, Catonsville and Dundalk.
In Maryland, where nearly 69,000 full-time students attend 18 community colleges, few other institutions are facing the hard times found in Baltimore County.
"Actually, schools in Charles, Frederick and Allegany counties are seeing a growing enrollment while others, like Prince George's and Baltimore counties, are seeing a decline in enrollment," said Kay Bienen, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC).
She and officials in Baltimore County blame the 6 percent drop in student enrollment on the economy.
"People who worked during the day and attended community college at night are still working during the day but now are going to work [at night] at the Giant or 7-Eleven," Ms. Bienen said. Also, she said, businesses hit by diminished profits cannot afford to subsidize employees' education.
Community colleges get money from state and county funding, and tuition, with the smallest amounts from returns on investments. Principal revenue for the Baltimore County system's annual $78.4 million budget break down this way: the county, $29 million; Maryland, $21.4 million; and tuition and fees, $27.1 million, Mr. Coleianne said.
"The drop in enrollment was not a surprise " he said. "We are looking at a possible 2 percent growth in enrollment in [the next fiscal year] but that would be only a partial recovery."
Mr. Coleianne said the system's new chancellor, Daniel J. LaVista, and members of the board of trustees have dismissed ZTC charging parking fees to raise more money on the three campuses.
But Dr. LaVista and other officials will not discuss another concern among the 1,500 faculty, professional staff and other employees -- possible layoffs.
In June, the American Association of University Professors censured Essex Community College for firing four professors from tenured positions two years ago.
Peter Dow Adams, head of the English department at Essex, said, "We all know if they can save money they will eliminate salaries but they haven't done anything yet so I think we should give the new chancellor a chance."
And while the concern of possible downsizing and layoffs has not been addressed publicly, the chairman of the County Council, Vincent J. Gardina, criticized Dr. LaVista last month for adding another bureaucratic layer atop the schools' three presidents.
Defenders of Dr. LaVista, hired in June, say he has not had enough time to consolidate administrative services and eliminate waste.
Mr. Coleianne said the system has safeguards for this fiscal year's loss. He said $3 million has been frozen in the current budget to cover the expected income drop.
"The students already pay a lion's share of the cost and an increase would contradict the primary mission of the two-year colleges to provide a low-cost, two-year degree or job retraining and certification," he said.
In a step to avoid raising tuition, MACC officials and college officers have been lobbying Gov. Parris N. Glendening and key legislators to get community colleges "off the short end of the funding stick," Ms. Bienen said.
Tomorrow, members of a legislative work group will prepare recommendations to the governor and General Assembly on changing the state's funding formula.
Del. Hank Heller, a Montgomery County Democrat and group co-chairman, said money from the state, counties and tuition should account equally for funding.
"The state hasn't kept up its responsibility," he said. "When you are proposing changes in budget formulas it's risky business. But we have a definite consensus that we need to increase funding to community colleges."