Opinion: Student Voices Need to be Heard

Original: February 22, 2011 Issue 11

By: Claire Moriarty

Senate President

Fifteen Montgomery College students spent Feb. 9 in Annapolis for Advocate Day, an annual event organized by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC), to lobby for State funding for community college in MD.

Three sources of funding make up the budgets of MC and other Maryland community colleges: the government of Maryland, the Montgomery County Council, and that which is raised by MC itself. In the case of budget cuts at the state and county levels, MC must turn to its constituents to come up with the difference, which means–you guessed it–higher tuition, more unpaid furlough days for faculty and staff, and a reduction in important college programs.

Advocacy Day is a rare opportunity for the state legislators to meet students who are directly affected by their decisions. The fifteen MC advocates, including students from each campus, spoke with as many legislators as possible. The students requested that their professors be supported, and promised to do their part to help Maryland make its degree-holding residents 55 percent of the population by 2025. The delegates were delighted to listen to the students, especially those who live in their voting districts.

Although some students and staff were skeptical about the effectiveness of the event, it quickly became apparent the trip was worthwhile.

Del. Kumar Barve is hard at work shaping legislature pertaining to the Marriage Quality Act, sustainable wind energy, working with Pepco, and worrying about the cryosphere. Delegate Al Carr is up against environmental issues involving hunting, fishing, agriculture, and saving Maryland’s oysters. Senator Jennie Forehand sports a “Stop Human Trafficking” button and leads a crusade against smoking in public places.

Although most of the delegates are supporters of education, they rarely actually see the state’s students. Simply by making an appearance, telling stories, and shaking hands, the students have done much towards keeping community colleges at the forefront of delegates’ minds.

Susan Madden is Montgomery College’s chief government relations officer. Few people work harder to stay abreast of what is going on in Annapolis and what changes in MC will come to pass as a result of state legislation.

When asked if Advocacy Day was just a pony show to get pictures of students and Senators together, she smiled and said, “Yes, but a very important pony show.”

Sen. Richard Madaleno, Democrat of District 18 and keynote speaker at Advocacy Day agreed, saying, “It’s important that you’re here today to put a face on what’s otherwise just a formula. Tell legislators your story, and why a community college education is so important.”

Madeleno referred to the Cade Formula, Maryland’s method of calculating state funding for community colleges. According to the MACC, the Cade Formula was to increase the State’s commitment to community colleges and lessen the students’ share of the cost of a community college education. However, the state’s share of the budget dropped from 29 percent to 24 percent since its inception in 1996, leaving students with a hefty 40 percent share in 2006. Since then, the state’s contribution has been rising slowly as a result of a senate bill, and is expected to cover 33percent by 2013.

Advocacy by students continues to play an important role in keeping tuition costs down. The county council will hold a budget public hearing in April, which is another opportunity for students to give their input. Anyone interested in speaking at this event should contact the Rockville Student Senate in CC011. The County Council can also be contacted via MontgomeryCountyMD.gov.

There is always room for students’ opinions on budget and policy. Facts tell, but stories sell, and right now our voice is not the loudest in the room. However, our share of the college operating budget is.