Anne Arundel Community College trustees have approved a $110.6 million operating budget proposal for the next fiscal year that includes a tuition and fee increase of $16 per credit hour, the largest such increase in school history.
The increase calls for an additional $7 per credit hour for tuition and $9 per credit hour for educational services, and would raise the school's tuition and fee rate to $120 per credit hour. For example, a student who is a resident of the county taking six credit hours per semester would pay $720 in tuition and fees; a student taking 15 credit hours would play $1,800. They will also need to pay a $20 per semester registration fee.
"After years of low or no tuition increases, this has placed Anne Arundel Community College well behind our cohort colleges," AACC President Martha Smith, who is retiring this year, said at the board meeting Wednesday. "Now we have to face the stark and very unpleasant reality of the need to increase tuition and fees."
AACC's fall 2011 semester cost was $90 per credit hour for tuition and $14 per credit hour for educational services, less than the statewide average for community colleges. The average tuition for the state's community colleges is $99 per credit hour, and fees are $20 per credit hour for fall 2011, according to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.
AACC student government president Abdul Rehman Khan commended the school for keeping costs low during troubling fiscal times.
"It's something students are obviously going to be affected by," Khan said of the increase, "but for the college, when you look at what they have, it was a step that had to be taken. In our focus groups [that dealt with the increase], students said they are fine with the increase. They understand that it's not easy for them to go through, but it is college."
AACC officials said the tuition/fee increase was needed to maintain educational programs and support technology needs. AACC's budget for the current fiscal year included a $5 increase in tuition and fees, while the budget for the 2011 fiscal year included a $3 increase.
The budget does not call for furloughs, which were implemented last year when the college's public funding fell short of its proposal. It also does not include salary increases.
About 80 percent of the operating budget's expenditures go toward salaries and benefits, AACC officials said. This year's operating budget also includes $2.7 million for such technology services as equipment replacement, IT security, technical projects and Web services.
The budget also requests that the county return funding levels to the $33.8 million it contributed each fiscal year from 2009 to 2011. For the current fiscal year, the County Council approved $28.6 million. The county executive will submit his budget proposal to the County Council in April; the final budget will be known in May.
Smith said funding for AACC accounts for 2.4 percent of the county budget, "and we have remained at that level for years and years and years. We believe that the county is aware that for that relatively small investment, the county and our residents get a huge benefit and value in return on that investment."
AACC officials said the $5 million reduction in county funds last year helped contribute to the decision to increase tuition and fees.
"That's $5 million that's gone; we won't get that back," Smith said. "That, on top of three or four years of a really bare-bones budget, the board said that we have to have a budget that minimally meets our quality standards, our access standards … and we will do what it takes to get us there.
"What it's doing is passing more of the costs to the students. Because our tuition is relatively low, we still are very competitive," said Smith.
She added that the school does not regret keeping its increases at a minimum over the past few years.
"As we forecast things, we anticipated level funding from the county and the state," Smith said, "and we made decisions about cost containment, about not moving forward with certain initiatives that we could sustain with relatively modest tuition increases."
The increases in fees come during tough economic times, when community colleges have been regarded as an increasingly attractive option to four-year schools.
Melissa Beardmore, AACC's vice president for learning resources, said increased costs will not prevent qualified students from attending.
"If they have the ability to benefit from higher education, we want them to come here," said Beardmore. "Our financial aid office will do anything it can to get them enrolled, get the financial aid and get the scholarship. Cost should not be a barrier."
The board also approved a $10.9 million capital budget plan that includes $4.7 million in administration building renovations.
Smith is stepping down in August, which means the current budget proposal is her last. She said because of the steep increase in tuition and fees, it's "absolutely the hardest" proposal she has made during her 18-year tenure.
Also on Wednesday, James Johnson, chair of the search and selection committee for AACC's next president, said the committee has received 120 applications and is in the process of screening candidates.
An earlier version of this story indicated that the new tuition rate will be $120 per credit hour. In fact, the $120 rate includes tuition and fees for educational services. Also, students will need to pay a $20 per semester registration fee. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.