Students from Maryland's 16 community colleges had an upbeat message for legislators in Annapolis yesterday: They like what the governor has done with the budget.
Nearly 400 of them from across the state traveled to the capital to lobby their representatives to keep that funding intact during the budget process.
The budget calls for a nearly $4.9 million increase in community college funding for the 16 schools next fiscal year. Students and administrators say the support is badly needed as two-year schools face booming enrollments and feel the financial squeeze of tight state and county budgets.
At the campus level, "we've done everything we can, there is nothing else to cut," said Mike Corradini, a sophomore French and political science major at Anne Arundel Community College. His school, like others, has trimmed teaching positions, student services and administrative expenses, he said.
Students from Montgomery College talked about getting closed out of some classes they need. Other classes are beyond capacity. "Its claustrophobic," said Jennifer Clavell, a general studies major at the college's Takoma Park campus.
The budget's proposed $146.6 million for the schools' operating costs and $58.8 million for 30 capital projects mean the state is "moving community colleges in the right direction," said Anthony G. Kinkel, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, which sponsors the annual advocacy day.
"Given the fiscal condition that the state is in, I think community colleges are very pleased," he said.
Of the high school graduates who go on to college in Maryland, 62 percent choose a community college, Kinkel said. But as student populations have grown, community colleges have faced cuts in the formula that sets their funding as a percentage of funding for the University of Maryland. Baltimore City Community College has a separate formula.
Along with several classmates, Clavell was also pushing yesterday for a bill that would stop requiring county residents -- many of whom went to school in local systems -- to pay out-of-state tuition because of their parents' U.S. citizenship status.
But most often, students talked about wanting to avoid raising tuition at schools known for offering a low-cost education.
Many schools are planning tuition increases of $3 to $10 per credit-hour this year. The statewide average for in-county residents' tuition and fees rose just under 17 percent from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2004, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Full-time students paid $2,675, on average, for the 2003-2004 school year.
"I don't have the money" for more tuition increases said Brenda Baqueiro, 19, of Silver Spring. She said she works full time at a sporting goods store in Greenbelt and is a full-time student at Montgomery College. She said her mother, who is single and has four other children, tries to help her out, but has little left after paying bills.
A dozen students from Howard Community College gathered in the office of Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Howard County Republican, and told her why they chose the Columbia school. Almost all talked about affordability in addition to good classes, the ability to transfer to a four-year school and the opportunity to decide what they wanted to study before taking on the expense of a four-year institution.
"Everyone should have the opportunity to get an associate's degree," said Corradini, 19, of Annapolis. He arrived at the House office building armed with statistics and studies to tell lawmakers that community colleges are a worthwhile investment.
Community college leaders have chosen not to weigh in on proposals for slot machines, taxes or other sources of revenue, as long as leaders find some way to fund education. "Whatever it is, we're going to support it if it raises money," Kinkel told students who gathered before meeting individually with their representatives.
Many students said they enjoyed the opportunity to talk to their elected officials and see the state government in action.
"I think it's a good idea to show that students do care," said Shannon Zirkle, a photography major and president of the Student Government Association at Howard Community College. Kinkel said he thought it was a lesson for the novice lobbyists. "It is an opportunity for students to realize that government is not something in a textbook," he said. "It's about people interacting with one another."