Flagship Community Colleges Revamp To Meet Demand

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
August 5, 2009

A leaky library basement becomes two classrooms. Gray walls get fresh coats of bright yellow paint. These visual cues signal big changes afoot at two major mid-Atlantic community college systems: Community College of Baltimore County and the University of the District of Columbia, respectively. They also reflect increased pressures on community colleges during the country's deepest economic downturn since the 1930s.

In response to swelling enrollment, the Baltimore system is retrofitting unused spaces to make new classrooms, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. In September, its three campuses are set to welcome some 24,000 students, an increase of 9 percent over last year, which saw a 10 percent rise in enrollment over the previous year.

For its part, UDC is redoing more than its decor, according to the Washington Post. Indeed, president Allen Sessoms pushed for two radical changes in the institution's structure: a division into two-year and four-year college and an end to open enrollment, at least for the four-year program. Tuition will be rising to pay for the transformation. "When I got here, it was pretty clear that the university was not meeting the public trust. It was not meeting expectations," Sessoms told the Post.

Students protested the planned changes, focusing their ire on tuition hikes and loss of open enrollment. But the Post's interviews suggest that some are now willing to give the administration an opportunity to show its plans can improve the quality of education. "I understand the plan a little bit better now," student and former protester Ayesha Johnson was quoted as saying. "You have to give them a chance to do what they say they are going to do."

At Community College of Baltimore County, growth in student rolls and course sections is coming at a time when budgets are tighter than ever. State lawmakers pared some $1.1 million from the college's $178-million budget, so administrators are resorting to all kinds of creative cost-cutting. They switched off the heat in all the buildings during Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks, for instance, saving some $100,000.

As the recession drags on, Baltimore area students are also tightening their belts. At one campus of the community college, a student-aid coordinator told the Chronicle that the number of requests from students appealing their financial aid package have skyrocketed, increasing more than twofold over last academic year. In the majority of cases, the reason given is the loss of employment by the students or their parents.

At UDC, meanwhile, applications have risen from some 2,000 at this time last year to 2,300 this year: 800 for the two-year program and 1,500 for the university. Besides improving the current campus in the District's Van Ness neighborhood, the administration aims to create a hub and satellite system in Ward 7 for the community college. Along with the physical upgrades, the Post reports, students cite with approval a retooled web site that makes the admissions process less burdensome.

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