Kamenetz unveils free community college tuition plan for high school graduates
- By Patrick Taylor -
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled a new proposal on Monday, March 19, that aims to provide community college tuition for college-ready county residents who may otherwise be priced out of higher education.
Kamenetz announced the need-based “College Promise” proposal at CCBC Essex, alongside Baltimore County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Verletta White and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis.
“This is a real game-changer for students from low or moderate income families for whom the benefits of a college education might otherwise be out of reach,” said Kamenetz. It opens up a lifetime of career income opportunities.”
The plan, which would require approval from the Baltimore County Council, would make up the difference between grants and financial aid and the total cost of tuition, which runs $1,876 per semester for a full-time student.
In the first year, the plan is likely to cost about $1 million, rising to $2.3 million by the program’s third year.
Kurtinitis estimated that there are approximately 1,100 students who have graduated in Baltimore County over the last two years who would qualify for the program.
In order to qualify, students must be county residents with an adjusted household income of $69,000, the median income for Baltimore County. A student would also need a 2.5 GPA and have graduated within the previous two years.
Those who have been out of school for longer than two years and those who need to take remedial classes first are not eligible for College Promise.
“This isn’t about giving anyone an opportunity,” said Kurtinitis. “This is about giving students who are college-ready an opportunity.”
Kamenetz maintained that the College Promise program will yield “transformative” results, both educationally and economically.
“We believe it will increase college graduation rates,” said Kamenetz, adding that a labor pool with better education credentials helps spur growth. He said well over 90 percent of those who get a degree from CCBC stay in Baltimore County, and that an associate’s degree from CCBC will translate to more than $300,000 in additional lifetime earnings.
White added that the opportunity to attend community college cost-free adds extra motivation to high school students who would otherwise be priced out of admission.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our recent graduates, especially those with financial constraints, to take full advantage of the tremendous education and career-advancing opportunities at CCBC,” said White.
The College Promise proposal also already has the backing of a majority on the county council.
“For the people in my district, this announcement will be a true lifesaver,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6). “Free college tuition will open up doors that otherwise would be closed. I am so proud to be part of this effort.”
Kamenetz noted that Bevins was one of two people to tear up when they heard about the proposal, the other being an administrative assistant in county government. Bevins has never been shy about noting that she was not able to afford college when she was younger.
The proposal also has the support of Republican councilmen Todd Crandell (R-7) and David Marks (R-5). Crandell commended the push to make college affordable, while Marks said he supports expanding community college and workforce training to all who need it, especially given the cost of the program. Marks did add, however, that he would have liked to have been given the opportunity for input before Monday’s announcement.
“County government works best when the executive branch briefs the legislature beforehand, and not surprisingly, that did not happen with all members of the Council,” said Marks.
With an enrollment around 62,000, many of whom return to college years after finishing high school, this program would not be available for most. In 2017, almost 38 percent of county high school graduates needed to take a remedial English class, and 59 percent needed a remedial math class, according to CCBC.
Similar programs have taken off all around the country over the last few years. There are currently 40 states with similar programs in place, and just last year Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh implemented a similar proposal in the city.
If approved in Kamenetz’s final budget proposal in April, the plan would be implemented for the Fall 2018 semester. Kamenetz is in his last year as county executive and is currently running for governor of Maryland.