When Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) graduates, starting with the graduating class of 2018, would be eligible for free tuition at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC), the initiative was met with widespread praise.

“We believe that we do have a responsibility to help our young people go to college,” Pugh said when she made the announcement earlier in August. “We believe that is a step in the right direction in terms of investment in our young people.”  About a week after Mayor Pugh’s announcement, Coppin State University, viewed as another anchor educational institution in West Baltimore by many, declared it would offer free tuition to city residents who earn associate degrees from BCCC.

The announcement earlier in August by Mayor Catherine Pugh that Baltimore City Public School graduates will receive free tuition to BCCC, could be a major boost for school. (Photo Courtesy)

The initiatives by Mayor Pugh and Coppin State have been received by many as a two-fold victory for the city; major financial relief for Baltimore residents seeking higher education options and a shot of confidence for BCCC, an institution that has experienced varied challenges, educational and political for several years.

In 2011, the Middle States Commission on higher education, which accredits colleges and universities in Maryland, put BCCC on probation status because of concerns over the college’s alleged inability to evaluate student learning. In 2012, the school’s president Carolane Williams was terminated by the college’s governing board (in 2010 Williams received a vote of, “no confidence,” by that board), amidst various concerns including a plummeting enrollment, which dropped 22 percent during her tenure.

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly, led by Baltimore City Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-43), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, enacted legislation that made 12 recommendations to help the school address its challenges or face a loss of state funding.

Another Baltimore City Delegate, Cory McCray (D-45), has intimate knowledge of BCCC’s challenges, as a legislator and a graduate of the school. Recently, McCray wrote an Op-Ed, which appeared in the Baltimore Sun, strongly supporting BCCC and voicing his disappointment in the school’s detractors.

McCray’s path to BCCC in many ways embodies some of the inherent challenges a large swath BCPS students face when seeking higher education options, yet is a powerful example of the vital role BCCC plays in educating those students, many of whom are in need of remedial support. “I had to take three remedial classes even before I started my real classes,” revealed McCray who entered the school in 2008, after completing a five-year apprenticeship program with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and graduated with his associates degree in Business Management in 2011.

“I knew what I was there to do and was very focused….I got good grades and it was done,” said McCray, who was already making decent money as an electrician, an investing in properties in East Baltimore. However, for many students entering BCCC, who don’t have the resources that were available to McCray, remedial classes can be deflating to young people attending college under tenuous circumstances.

“`Why do we have to take high school classes again?’ said a source within BCCC who wished to remain anonymous, in reference to a common refrain of BCPS graduates attending the college. Remedial classes can represent “extra” work and an extra expense for many students already struggling to attend college, which is a large percentage of BCCC students, according to the source. Many have to juggle full-time employment, childcare, eldercare and other challenges, with college coursework. Educating these students is a significant part of BCCC’s mission.

McCray, who is not ashamed of his back story (“I had been hustling since I was 13”), which includes scrapes with law enforcement, empathizes with many of his fellow BCCC alumni. But, as a legislator he believes the city and the state has a responsibility to bolster BCCC. He points to a pivotal moment in 2015, when he felt the school was undercut.

“Secretary of Labor Tom Perez (in the Obama administration), gave the City of Baltimore $5 million (shortly after the uprising in 2015)…to target young people aged 16-25 for job training,” McCray explained. “The money went from the feds, to the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development and there were several awardees…one of them used CCBC (Community College of Baltimore County). BCCC could have done that work. Why couldn’t BCCC be figured into that equation?” asked McCray.

“You can’t build Baltimore’s citizens and not build the anchor institution of Baltimore City, that’s in one of the toughest zip codes, right next to Mondawmin,” McCray added.

“You do that by not only building the people, but by building the anchor institutions.”

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor