Baltimore County Builds A College Promise
By Dr. Sandra L. Kurtinitis and Kevin Kamenetz
Gabby, a student at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County, has big hopes and dreams. She’s a textbook college candidate with good grades and strong extracurricular involvement. She stands out in her role as an active member of the Future Business Leaders of America and has plans to establish her own real estate brokerage one day.
Gabby’s mom, Lisa, wants nothing more than to bolster Gabby’s dream. However, as a single working mother of three, she can’t quite figure out how she’ll manage the costs of college. Lisa and Gabby have spent countless hours huddled at their kitchen table, crunching the numbers and worrying about taking on what seems like insurmountable debt.
This scene is all too common in households across the United States. Parents are frustrated. Students are discouraged. And, for too many, the conversation stops here. Ultimately, good students who could be the next generation of cybersecurity experts, health care professionals, automotive technicians and business leaders, never even attempt to pursue, let alone, realize their potential. That’s not just a loss for them. It’s a loss for all of us, extending the shadow of their dreams deferred across our communities, our counties, and our nation.
Here in Baltimore County, we know we can create a better scenario. We want to make a college education within reach of all who can benefit from it. That’s why we’ve partnered to launch the Baltimore County College Promise program, providing the opportunity for hard-working students like Gabby to complete college debt-free at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).
Lisa, Gabby’s mom, happens to work as an administrative assistant for Baltimore County government. When we told her about the Baltimore County College Promise program, where Gabby could someday qualify for free tuition and fees as a full-time CCBC student, a range of emotions crossed her face—disbelief, amazement, excitement, and a palpable sense of relief. She teared up and asked for more details. “You don’t even know how much this means to us,” she exclaimed. “I have worried for years about how to send Gabby to college.”
Scheduled to start this fall, the new Baltimore County College Promise program will ease such troubled minds and provide serious motivation for high school students to earn the required 2.5 GPA. This is a real game-changer for students from low or moderate income families. While CCBC is considered an incredible value, with tuition that’s about half the cost of that of four-year colleges and universities, it’s still an investment that many struggle to afford. The majority of CCBC degree-seeking students attend part-time, juggling their studies with jobs, working 20 hours or more per week. And while about 35 percent of CCBC students receive Pell grants, many students who are not Pell-eligible do not earn enough to handle the financial obligations of college.
Our College Promise scholarship extends a much-needed lifeline to such students. A “last dollar in” award, it picks up the remaining tuition and mandatory fees at CCBC not covered by financial aid, benefitting college-ready, recent high school graduates with adjusted gross incomes at or below the Baltimore County median of $69,000. But, to be clear, this is a hand up, not a handout. Recipients must commit to pursue their education full-time, maintain a successful GPA, and complete their chosen associate degree, workplace licensure, or certification program within three years. When they do, we will all reap the rewards.
Studies show, for example, that CCBC graduates will see an increase in earnings of $10,400 each year compared to someone with only a high school diploma. Over a working lifetime, that amounts to more than $300,000 in increased earnings. Considering 95 percent of CCBC’s graduates remain in the Baltimore region, that’s money reinvested in our communities and our tax base, boosting our local economy, and attracting employers who desire qualified, well-educated candidates.
So, while offering a tuition-free community college scholarship won’t solve all the financial woes people wrestle with at their kitchen tables, it certainly reduces the burden for many deserving students and the families who support them. And that brings us back to Gabby. How could we not invest in her entrepreneurial dream? After all, she represents Baltimore County’s promise. We owe it to ourselves to make sure she is open for business one day.
Across the country, there are now more than 200 College Promise programs underway in 44 states. Find out how to start building a College Promise program in your community: collegepromise.org/start.