Culver proposal would allow Wicomico students to receive Wor-Wic tuition funding

County Executive Bob Culver is proposing the county pay tuition costs for any high school graduate who wishes to attend Wor-Wic Community College.

“One of the most important needs for successful economic development is a well-trained, educated work force within the county,” Culver said.

“This scholarship program provides an opportunity for Wicomico County residents to obtain an education and training to help strengthen our community and their future,” he said.

The idea was officially presented to the County Council on Tuesday night as part of a discussion led by Wor-Wic President Dr. Ray Hoy.

Called the Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship, the initiative would cover tuition and fees — but not books and supplies — for eligible high school graduates in Wicomico County.

While there are specific eligibility criteria, the program is designed so that there are not too many “strings attached” and students seeking community college training opportunities would be fairly accommodated.

To be eligible for the free tuition, students would need to:

•Be a Wicomico resident for at least the past two years.

•Be a current Wicomico high school graduate (or a Wicomico resident graduating from Delmar High School).

•Enroll in a degree or certificate program at Wor-Wic.

•Apply for and accept all other financial aid — last dollar funding.

•Register for 12 or more credit hours in the fall immediately after high school graduation.

To remain eligible for free tuition, students would have to:

•Maintain a 2.0 grade point average.

•Maintain full-time attendance and earn at least 24 credit hours each academic year.

•Engage in up to six continuous fall and spring terms or attain one associate degree – whichever occurs first (students have three years to complete a two-year degree).

Additionally, participants would receive reimbursement for direct dual enrollment course costs after successful first term at Wor-Wic.

$665,000 annual cost

Over three years, the tuition program would cost Wicomico County an estimated $1.46 million:

•$252,000 — Year 1 (based on each student taking 27 credits).

•$540,000 — Year 2 (based on 27 credits).

•$665,000 — Year 3 (based on 27 credits for 1st and 2nd year students and 12 credits for 3rd year students).

Once in full operation, the program would cost the county $665,000 annually, but expenses could change with inflation and other cost increases.

To determine those costs, Wor-Wic officials estimated a 15 percent increase in the number of high school graduates attending right after graduation. It is expected that 83 percent will attend full time and 59 percent will receive federal financial aid covering full tuition and fees.

Scholarship and financial aid programs are seen as not keeping pace with college costs; financial aid programs have become so cumbersome that poor students are reluctant to sign up.

Currently, 30 percent of Wor-Wic’s students attend full time.

Wor-Wic has long served as a conduit to four-year colleges and universities.

Two-thirds of the students in University System of Maryland schools are transfer students, with some 33,000 accepted annually. USM schools accepted more transfer students than freshmen in each of the past two years.

Wor-Wic is also an important player in keeping students local, as Salisbury University accepts more transfer students from Wor-Wic than from any other institution.

Only about 30 percent of SU’s students are from the eight Eastern Shore counties.

The program could help create a college-going culture in the community by supporting area children from pre-kindergarten through college graduation.

It would also strengthen the already popular dual-enrollment program where some of the county’s high school students take college classes at Wor-Wic.

County Council reaction

The plan was well-received by the County Council at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Council President John Cannon called the idea “a good proposal” but voiced concern that more students attending Wor-Wic would increase costs to the institution.

He asked how those increases would be covered.

Hoy acknowledged operating expenses would increase. The college can absorb much of the cost, and he said he hopes there would be more government funding.

Cannon said students would also greatly appreciate being charged only half of their tuition, suggesting that would reduce the program’s overall price tag.

There could also be help through community initiatives, Cannon said.

He also suggested subsidizing tuition based on high school grades.

Hoy said many students tell him they were poor students in high school, but excelled at Wor-Wic.

Councilman Larry Dodd said he was concerned that students would move away from the area once they were trained. Hoy said, however,  that more than 90 percent stay on the Lower Shore after graduation.

“That’s historic and that’s across the state,” Hoy said.

In Maryland’s Garrett and Allegany counties, where unemployment is high and job opportunities are limited, county governments already offer free tuition to students who meet specific requirements.

In the Maryland, a bill has been introduced to make community college tuition free statewide to recent high school graduates, but the effort faces an uphill battle in the current session.

Hoy said the Wicomico tuition plan would help improve prospects for hundreds of students each year.

“This would better-align the education pathway from high school through

college degrees in our communities,” Hoy said. “It would certainly improve college attainment and college success through scholarship support. We will be able to measure outcomes by the benefits to our region’s young people and the benefits to our region’s economy.”

Culver, who has made economic growth and business opportunities an important part of his leadership blueprint said the program seeks to deal with a local need.

“Nurturing the opportunity for education in our community will help recruit new businesses while keeping the existing ones,” Culver said.

“To sustain our quality of life and economic strength, we need to provide assistance to educate and train more of our residents to obtain good-paying jobs.”

Nationally and locally, low-skill jobs have been replaced by jobs that require specialized training and skills, called “middle-skill” jobs.

These positions require an education beyond high school but short of a four-year degree. Industries can’t find enough sufficiently trained workers to fill these jobs — in Maryland there are 138,000 current unfilled jobs and more than 1,000 unfilled jobs locally.

Fredericksen supportive

Wicomico schools Superintendent John Fredericksen said the proposal is “a winner.”

“We’re focused on ensuring that every student leaves Wicomico County Public Schools ready for college and/or career, he said.

“An initiative that makes college accessible for even more of our graduates seems likely to be a winner for everyone concerned, from the young people who would be earning a two-year degree at Wor-Wic and going on to local jobs or additional higher education, to the employers who would be able to hire from a more educated and trained workforce, to the entire community, which would experience the boost this would likely give to the economy,” Fredericksen said.

“We’re excited to hear more about this,” he said.

 

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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