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BCCC improving, but needs state funding to continue progress | COMMENTARY

Baltimore City Community College
Baltimore City Community College (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

I recently had the great honor of recording a congratulatory video for the 2020 graduates of Baltimore City Community College (BCCC). This year’s graduates finished earning their degrees while a global health pandemic was underway and our day-to-day lives became unrecognizable. I am extraordinarily proud of their perseverance to reach the finish line of their college journey.

Working on the video for BCCC also provided me with an opportunity to think about the pride that I have in BCCC as an institution. Under the leadership of Debra McCurdy, BCCC’s 14th president, the college has experienced an 8% growth in enrollment. It was not too long ago, in 2015, that BCCC saw a great decline in its enrollment and many people publicly questioned the BCCC’s future in our city.

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Fortunately, in 2017, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced H.B. 1595 to realign BCCC as a stronger and more effective engine for the Baltimore region. This realignment consisted of a total restructuring of the board, greater partnerships with Baltimore City Public Schools, technological improvements, refocusing the president’s leadership team, and more. This was a necessary step to move one of Baltimore’s anchor institutions in the right direction. There is no question that H.B. 1595 has contributed to the success we see today.

Until recently, we watched the student population decline because students from Baltimore City viewed surrounding institutions (for example, the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), Anne Arundel Community College and Howard Community College) as providing a superior academic environment. And this perception wasn’t just limited to prospective students. Even other anchor institutions and government entities focused their energy outside of Baltimore’s city limits.

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When Johns Hopkins launched their training program for underserved ZIP codes, they chose to partner with CCBC. In 2015, when the federal Department of Labor appropriated $5 million to increase opportunities in Baltimore City after the uprising after the death of Freddie Gray, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development awarded grants to programs that partnered with CCBC.

It was disheartening to find that our students, hospital partners and governmental agencies chose to work with an institution outside of their hometown, even when it came at a higher cost. But this was the reality in 2015. It was clear that the college was in need of change. That change has now come.

This year, we have seen organizations like CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield increase their commitment to BCCC. One of my constituents is already enrolled at the University of Maryland College Park but chose to take summer classes at BCCC to enhance her educational opportunities. I was thrilled when she shared that one of the reasons she made this choice was Dr. McCurdy’s initiative to apply for federal emergency pandemic CARE funding and to use some of those dollars to offer free books to students enrolled in summer courses. It is this type of innovation and creativity that makes BCCC competitive.

As overall enrollment growth has occurred, dual enrollment among Baltimore City students has doubled since 2015. However, achieving this success has not been easy. During the July Board of Public Works (BPW) hearing, $3.2 million in state funding was cut from BCCC’s operating budget. An additional $500,000 in facilities funding was also eliminated.

This was by no means an across-the-board cut. In fact, all of BCCC’s community college peers were flat funded at fiscal year 2020 levels. Only BCCC was singled out for an unwarranted budget reduction. At the most recent budget and tax briefing, I spoke about the injustice of cutting the budget of one of Maryland’s only urban community colleges with a majority minority student population. In response, I received a commitment from the Hogan administration that they would attempt to correct this injustice during the proposed 2021 fiscal year budget.

I am thankful for those, such as Board of Trustees Chair Kurt Schmoke and Trustee John Lewis, who stepped up to shift the direction of BCCC over the past several years. With their support, and the support of so many others who believe in BCCC’s mission, the college has made great strides. As an alum of BCCC, I hope that my fellow alumni and other community leaders will reach out to the Hogan administration to ensure that their commitment is kept. Baltimore City needs this now more than ever.

Sen. Cory McCray (cory.mccray@senate.state.md.us) represents the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore, in the Maryland General Assembly. He also serves as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

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