The loss of funding for the Maryland Community College Promise scholarship arrives at a difficult time for the state’s community colleges. The schools are contending with their own budget cuts and a decline in fall enrollment as the recession takes a heavy toll on the population they traditionally serve: students from low-income households.
“Our students are the people working at your restaurants, they’re the ones working at your stores. Those students are exponentially impacted by this crisis,” said DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College, one of Maryland’s largest community colleges. “We know that enrollment is probably going to continue to contract because students won’t have the money to go to school.”
Maryland is one of 30 states that cover tuition at community colleges, part of a national movement to use higher education to strengthen the local economy. College Promise programs, as tuition-free initiatives are commonly known, have resonated with elected leaders across the political spectrum, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has pledged to make them universal.
In Maryland, the community college scholarship provides up to $5,000 to students whose families earn less than $150,000 a year and adults earning less than $100,000. The state covers tuition left over after factoring in other scholarships and grants.
Similar to the other state programs that have emerged in recent years, Maryland College Promise has had its share of growing pains. The eligibility criteria were complex and restrictive, some deadlines changed midstream, and students complained of not getting timely responses to their questions.
But this year was different. Advertising kicked off early, with community colleges, high schools and the Maryland Higher Education Commission reminding students throughout the year to apply. And legislative fixes to some requirements of the scholarship expanded the pool of applicants.
The program, which was exclusively focused on recent high