WASHINGTON – Maryland community college officials urged the state’s congressional delegation Tuesday to save one grant program targeted for elimination in President Bush’s proposed budget and boost funding for another.
Representatives of 10 of the state’s 16 community colleges said that in addition to saving the Perkins Grants and raising funds for Pell Grants, lawmakers must move to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
“This is probably one of the most important years in our lifetime as far as education is concerned,” said Brad Young, a trustee at Frederick Community College, who is also chairman of the national Association of Community College Trustees.
The delegation members — seven of the 10 showed up for Tuesday’s meeting — were generally supportive of the schools, which they called the gateway to college and to the future.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she had introduced a bill earlier in the day that would create a new $500 million federal grant program for community college to use at their own discretion. Other lawmakers, while supportive, did not advance specific proposals Tuesday.
The trustees said that community colleges are valuable to students and the state because they help provide a trained and educated Maryland workforce.
“Almost everything we do is a form of workforce development,” said Elaine Ryan, the president of the College of Southern Maryland.
But community college officials said their vocational and technical programs, which do most of that workforce development, are in jeopardy because of Bush’s proposal to eliminate the Perkins Basic State Grant Program in his fiscal 2006 budget.
The Perkins program provides federal money to high schools and colleges for technical and vocational training. The program was allotted about $1.2 billion in fiscal 2005.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said that the state needs more tradesmen like electricians and plumbers.
“We are failing to turn out anywhere near enough (people) in trades,” Bartlett said.
The college officials said many community colleges use the funds for occupational education and professional development, such as allied health programs. They said a more appropriate allotment for fiscal 2006 would be $1.4 billion.
But while he wants to cut Perkins grants, Bush has proposed increasing funding for Pell grants — general federal aid that is awarded to students to pay tuition, books and living expenses.
Bush has proposed raising the maximum amount an individual can receive from the current $4,050. But while the president’s plan would raise that cap by a total of $500 over five years, the community college officials said the cap needs to be increased by $450 immediately.
“With inflation and tuition rates being what they are, a large number of students who need Pell Grants” could not afford higher education under current limits, said Patrick Huddie, a Howard County Community College trustee.
Of the roughly 120,000 students served by the state’s community colleges, he said, 31,000 rely on Pell Grants. Huddie, who is also president of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, said those students need that $450.
“In real terms that means five more textbooks or six more credits — six credits is a lot,” Huddie said.
All of Maryland’s members of Congress were present Tuesday, at least briefly, except Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer of Mechanicsville, Albert Wynn of Mitchellville and Elijah Cummings of Baltimore.
In addition to Frederick and Howard community colleges and the College of Southern Maryland, schools represented at the meeting were Montgomery College, Anne Arundel Community College, the City College of Baltimore, Cecil Community College, Harford Community College, Chesapeake College and Prince George’s Community College.
-30- CNS 02-15-05