ANNAPOLIS — A panel reviewing the operations of Baltimore City Community College told legislators they need to blow up the current structure of the struggling institution, starting with making it part of the University System of Maryland.
The change is among dozens of recommendations that also include potentially eliminating staff and education courses, realigning programs to meet the needs of local businesses and rebranding the former-city run two-year institution that was taken over by the state in 1990.
“Over and over we heard from people inside the institution that old phrase: ‘Insanity is continuing to do what you’ve always done and expecting things to change,’” said Patricia Florestano, a former secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and former University System of Maryland Regent.
“There needs to be bold steps, quickly, urgently, to make significant change in the direction of Baltimore City Community College,” said Florestano. “We concluded, quite candidly, that we were not going to give you the same old, same old kind of report and throw some money at the problem to solve it. That is not what this report is about.”
The 236-page report, which was dismissed by Sen. Joan Carter Conway as containing “fancy charts and graphs,” was conducted at the request of the legislature by the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy. The panel said it found that the college is struggling to meet the needs of city residents and businesses, is not financially sustainable and frustrates local businesses and drives city students to community colleges in Baltimore County even though courses are more expensive there.
The group called for sweeping changes to the governance structure of the college, elimination of programs and staff, a budget that more accurately reflects its enrollment and financial situation, and a focus on building relationships with businesses in the city and being responsive to job training needs.
“We were surprised that the changes made by the state in 1990 has kept (the community college) isolated and without strong advocacy,” said Florestano. “It is caught between the requirements of being a state agency and being a state-sponsored institution of higher ed. They do not benefit from autonomy as does Morgan (State University) or University System of Maryland.”
Baltimore City Community College stands among the 15 other two-year institutions in the state because it is not run by the local jurisdiction in which it operates. The state took over operations from the city, mostly to absorb the costs, in 1990. And while the city still contributes roughly $1 million annually, the college is a state entity.
The state takeover of the college has created its own problems, making the college neither a state college nor a government agency — a move that has complicated issues such as procurement.
“It can’t exist on an island by itself,” said Charlene Dukes, president of the Prince George’s County Community College, who was a member of the report’s advisory committee.
Over the last 25 years the college has continued to struggle with cost issues and declining enrollment. Its 3,100 students pales in comparison to the more than 105,000 students at the Community College of Baltimore County — an institution attended by 8,000 city students despite the additional costs.
Over the last 10 years, the college has had its accreditation placed on warning status twice and on probation status once over the assessment of student outcomes.
Numerous reports and studies have been done over the last 25 years, but none have resolved the problem.
Still, the new review, which included 90 interviews and 1,300 returned surveys from a broad base of students, faculty, business and nonprofit leaders, was surprising to some.
“Frankly we were stunned by what we found,” said Florestano.
Authors of the plan called it bold and said the response to it from the leaders at the college indicated they were in denial about the severity of the ongoing situation.
“I think our concern is that if we end up working the margins on this and making incremental changes that don’t address a long-term set of problems, then we’ll end up in the same place,” said Laslo Boyd, a member of the review panel and an education adviser to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer as well as a former secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and a former senior university administrator.
The plan also drew mixed reviews and some sharp criticism.
Gordon May, president and chief executive officer of the college, told legislators that he has instituted a number of changes since taking over nearly two years ago, including a slew of senior level personnel changes.
“We need time to allow these very positive personnel changes to take root,” May said. “Given time to gel, our leadership change will be simply outstanding. It’s got the makings of that. The last thing we need at this time is a structural, operating or governmental board overhaul.”
Todd Yeary, president of the college Board of Trustees, agreed.
“While we do not agree with their conclusions, we are not in denial about the challenges that the college is facing,” said Yeary.
The college’s 162-page response detailed steps already being taken to improve the institution.
Yeary described the college as one that is providing a quality education while having “one arm tied behind its back.”
Lawmakers seemed at odds with the report. Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City and chair of the Appropriations Committee, vowed to make the community college her “No. 1 issue” for the coming 2017 legislative session
“We’re not sitting anything on the shelf anymore,” said McIntosh. “This is a year for decisions and action.”
McIntosh said she remains open-minded regarding a solution to the problems facing the college.
Others were clear in their opposition.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway said she “couldn’t even relate” to transferring the community college into the university system.
Conway, who was joined in opposing the recommendation by Baltimore County Democratic Del. Adrienne Jones, repeated criticisms of the USM and an ongoing dispute between Towson University and Morgan State University involving a business program. That dispute is the subject of a federal lawsuit and arbitration.
Conway said similarly that the Community College of Baltimore County damaged the city community college by creating a new allied health program that decimated an existing one in the city.
“We can resolve all of this, and it’s very easy to resolve in terms of the decline, in terms of the duplication, in terms of programs and other issues, in terms of our facilities,” Conway said. “Some of it’s called money but it’s not all about money. It’s about the commitment to do the right thing, and I have for a long time said in this legislature that my heart is hurting about specific areas as it relates to education of our children. So we need to have that commitment.”