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Cutting MCCC's Budget Means Cutting Off Education For Some

If tuition rises up to an extra $11 per credit hour some students will not be able to attend MCCC.

Students shared stories of how  (MCCC) is making a difference in their lives. They asked county commissioners during a budget hearing Wednesday not to cut MCCC’s funding 22 percent. A possible tutition increase up to an extra $11 per credit hour would keep some students from finishing their educations.

"From a financial aid perspective, 12 credits is considered full-time"  for students, said Alana Mauger, director of communications for MCCC.  The highest increase would raise tuition $132 a semester if students took 12 credit hours. But, Mauger added, "Nothing is set is stone if the cuts happen as presented."

the proposed 2012 Montgomery County budget is nearly $385 million.  There is a $44 million shortfall, thus cuts are being considered. Otherwise, taxes would need to be raised $130 per homeowner to close the gap.

County commissioners, minus who was not present after being charged with perjury, listened to nearly 60 residents in a Montgomery County Courtroom and overflow room as they lobbied against cuts to MCCC, the county system, , and county parks department.

Fifty students, instructors, staff members and administrators petitioned county commissioners not to cut $2.5 million in funding to the college.  Such a cut would drop funding to the 2007-2008 level, with 24 percent more students attending MCCC now, said Thomas Freitag, vice president of finance and administration.  He told commissioners not to balance the budget on the “backs of the students.”

William Reynolds, 27, told commissioners he grew up in Pottstown’s epicenter of crime and poverty, and that he is the first person in his family to attend college. “I’m trying to get out of poverty,” he said. 

The criminal justice major told Patch, “I did petty theft when I was young.  If I did not have the opportunity to go to Montco, I would probably be involved in something illegal.”  Reynolds said keeping MCCC’s funding would offer a better return than “paying $40,000 year to house just one inmate.”

“Cuts at the college are short-sighted,” Reynolds said.  “I have financial aid, but would not be able to pay for books and other school-related things,” he said. Reynolds would like to become a park ranger or juvenile probation officer.

Reynolds told commissioners, “MCCC is the backbone of Montgomery County and surrounding counties.”  Reynolds said MCCC club members volunteered 15,000 hours for county agencies during the 2010-11 school year. If the county had done this work, it would have cost $250,000, said Reynolds.

MCCC students help the county and state after they graduate.  Ninety-eight percent of them are employed in Pennsylvania, 80 percent work in Montgomery County, said Mauger.

She told commissioners she was raised by a single mother, lived below the poverty line, and "felt like a number in high school."  As a student at MCCC she pursued her dream of writing, now holds a Master's degree and heads MCCC's communications.

Ben Litman told commissioners he is “politically active, a tax payer, and voted for Josh Shapiro and Lesile Richards [in the county commissioners race], and is against buddget cuts.”

After Litman finished speaking, Commissioner Bruce Castor who ran against Shapiro and Richards, asked Litman to return to the podium.  Castor said, “We never pledged we wouldn’t raise taxes, which is all the rage in Montgomery County…There would be no chance these cuts could be restored.”

Litman responded he was “trying to protect [students] from severe budget cuts” since he has had trouble accessing education since he was young due to disabilities.

Darnell Underwood lives in Stowe near Pottstown and attends West Campus.  He was part of the MCCC delegation, but did not speak to commissioners.  He told Patch, “I’m 39 and so happy to be at MCCC... It gives me hope.”  He said he regrets “wasted” years, but at MCCC, “Everybody wants to see you succeed.” 

Underwood said, “I want to get my diploma, share my experiences, strengths and hope” possibly working at a shelter.

When asked what he would do if funds are cut, Underwood said, “I am fearful. I don’t want to think about it. I have a Pell grant, but I wouldn’t be able to attend school.”

Maureen Rafferty, 27, of Lansdale also attended the hearing to support those who spoke.  She told Patch, “I never wanted to go to college, but then I realized I needed an education.  Montco was my only choice.  I didn’t have the grades or the money to go to a four-year school.  Since I started the dance major…it’s the greatest thing.”

Rafferty is concerned for others about budget cuts. “I only have one more class.  I almost couldn’t afford it.  A friend helped me pay for it.”  One three-credit class is $375, she said. 

Hilary Sbei of East Norriton also supported other MCCC students who spoke.  She told Patch she is a “super sophomore,” because she is finishing her fourth year at MCCC and graduating from the newer dance program this month. 

The 22-year-old said, “I found my passion [dancing] at Montco.  Dr. Linda Copel, who heads the program, “helped me find what I wanted to do.  She opened my eyes to what is in the dance world.” 

“I am paying for school by myself.  I have a part-time retail job and I am trying to make ends meet,” said Sbei.  She plans to take more courses at MCCC in the spring and transfer to a four-year school in the fall.  But if there are budget cuts, “It would be difficult for me to continue my education,” she said.  

Student Government Association President Christine Chiodo of Glenside handed commissioners a bag filled with 1,700 cards from students, alumni, staff and faculty asking commissioners to keep funding at current levels.

Commissioners will vote on the budget December 21.  It is unclear whether Matthews will join them for that vote.

Submit your comments to county commissioners that will not be publicly displayed, by using this link: http://www2.montcopa.org/montco/CWP/View.asp?a=11&q=83532.

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