Cumberland Times-News

Local News

January 21, 2013

Tough economy affects student enrollment

Allegany College of Maryland trustees meet on first day of spring semester, move to keep pace with declining rolls

CUMBERLAND — The spring semester at Allegany College of Maryland got under way Monday, while school officials move to implement new programs to meet student needs in the face of declining enrollment.

During the monthly board of trustees meeting held Monday, ACM officials said that despite Pell Grant cuts and statewide declines in enrollment, the college will push forward with new measure to help students to afford higher education and utilize technology to reach potential students.

New programs being implemented range from financial assistance and advisory capabilities to online tutoring and courses to help students who face continued economic challenges.

“We are down about 4.7 percent from the previous fall. We expect the spring enrollment to follow that,” said Cynthia Bambara, ACM’s president.

Community colleges across the mid-Atlantic region are seeing dips or flat enrollment, according to officials.

Over the last year, with Congress facing spiraling costs and continued pressure to control the budget, they have looked to tighten eligibility for the financial aid program for low-income students known as the Pell Grant.

Officials say that lower income caps, fewer semesters of eligibility and the elimination of summer grants are some of the cuts that students are facing.

“Changes at the federal level will certainly have an impact on the poorest students. But, we believe we need to look for new opportunities for our students,” said Bambara.

“For the last two years it has leveled off. We are still higher than we were five years ago,” said Bambara.

Bambara did not have a specific study on the latest decrease to cite, but said lower population and the economic slowdown has had an impact.

The move to transform Rocky Gap into a casino is being looked at by ACM officials as an opportunity.

“There is a lot of opportunity for our students here. This is good news for us.” said Bambara.

The college is moving to add courses to the Continuing Education Program that will help people find employment in that environment.

Rocky Gap, which is expected to hold a job fair Wednesday, is expected to need workers in everything from hospitalities and clerical to accounting, technologies and business management.

Bill Devlin, the director for the student success center at ACM, told the board that an attractive option for students continues to be the associate degree scholarship award offered by Frostburg State University. Community college students, in many majors, with a 3.0 or higher GPA will automatically be eligible for as much as a 50 percent financial award toward tuition at FSU for up to four semesters.

“Regardless of where you live, it’s $1,250 (award) per semester. Students attending any Maryland community college are eligible,” Devlin said in an interview following the meeting.

Devlin said with the Gilpin Scholarships available for high school students, which pay as much as 50 percent of tuition, people can now save quite a bit on their education.

“To transfer to any four-year institution it’s a great place to come and save a lot of money because you can do your first two years and then transfer and complete your bachelor’s degree,” said Bambara.

David Jones, the director of grants and development, told the board that the application process to become a Title III institution is under way. If accepted, ACM will be eligible for grants to receive additional advisory resources and staff to help establish an advising center on campus.

“It enhances registration and academic advising and career transfer and placements, and more. The goal is a one-stop advising center,” said Jones.

The college also expects to roll out a new free online tutoring program during the spring semester. Through the online service known as Thinking Storm, students can receive human assistance via the Internet.

ACM, which also has online nursing degree courses, hopes the tutoring program is a hugh success for students.

The college’s respiratory therapy department is expecting to benefit soon from a patient simulator, a life-size human model which will allow students to simulate hooking up life support, pulmonary treatment, and much more. The $58,000 simulator is to be funded by way of a Perkins Grant.

David DeWitt, the vice president of finance and human resources, shared with the board some financial data from a recent state of Maryland economic study.

“The average return on investment from an associate degree brings a graduate $13,800 more per year than a high school diploma. A student gets a 17 percent return on the investment,” said DeWitt.

Nursing continues to be the top program at ACM with nearly 250 students enrolled.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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