Baltimore County Public Schools will no longer pay for all secondary students to take college courses at the Community College of Baltimore County.
Facing a tight budget and new academic standards set by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the state’s education reform plan, BCPS will conclude the “Tuition Free” program, which included the cost of students’ books and fees, for ninth and 10th grade students at the end of this academic year.
Instead, 11th and 12th graders who are considered college- and career-ready — a standard the Maryland State Board of Education updated and approved last month — are eligible to take up to four credit-bearing or industry-credential courses for free at CCBC. Students this academic year were able to take an unlimited number of classes.
Gboyinde Onijala, a county school spokesperson, said the program’s eligibility was changed to follow the Blueprint’s new college and career readiness standard.
“The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future specifically speaks to offering College and Career Readiness pathways to students who meet the eligibility requirements,” Onijala said in a statement. “BCPS is aligning its practice to the requirements of the legislation.”
Students who haven’t met the standard can get 50% off tuition. They would need to pay for their books and fees.
The BCPS free tuition program was expanded to all ninth to 12th grade students in June 2022 as part of the district’s Blueprint implementation plan, which each Maryland county is required to submit to the Blueprint’s Accountability and Implementation Board, its own independent unit of the state government. Over 50 community college courses were offered as part of the district’s dual credit program, through which students earn both high school and college credit.
The expansion led to a 65% increase in enrollment in the 2022 summer semester and a 23% increase in enrollment in the fall 2022 semester, according to CCBC.
Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the college, said the program will continue to help students earn college credit and even finish an associate’s degree. The community college is considering offering boot camps to prepare high school students to pass the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, an exam that is one avenue to meet the college and career readiness standard.
“They have a huge challenge to address,” Kurtinitis said of BCPS Superintendent Myriam Rogers and her team. “I have some empathy for what she is trying to do, which is to meet all the needs of the Blueprint. And there are some pretty hefty monetary demands that are made by other things like opening the preschool and other expectations.”
Rogers proposed spending $14.3 million of her $2.58 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2025 to support early childhood education. A majority, about $10 million, would go toward the Blueprint requirement of expanding free, full-day prekindergarten for families at or below 300% of the federal poverty level.
CCBC is also struggling with a potential budget cut of $4.3 million next academic year. Citing a significant enrollment decline, Democratic Gov. Wes Moore proposed a $22 million reduction from Maryland’s 16 community colleges in his $63.1 billion state budget plan. About 85% of CCBC students receive free tuition from various scholarships and programs, Kurtinitis said.
BCPS previously had more conditions for the tuition program, requiring students to have a certain GPA and pass community college requirements to take up to four free courses.
As the district prepares to submit its second implementation plan by May, students must demonstrate they’ll succeed in community college courses by meeting the new readiness standard.
There are two options for students to be considered ready for success. One is having a GPA of at least 3.0, plus either earning an A, B or C in Algebra 1 or scoring at least proficient in Algebra I on the MCAP exam. The second option is to score at least proficient in both Algebra I and English 10 on the MCAP.
County students who meet the standard and have already attended some college courses can still take four additional free classes. BCPS will also pay for fees other than tuition and books for eligible students who are taking coursework at CCBC or local Maryland universities.
“Look, it’s still advancing many, many, many students,” Kurtinitis said of the program. “We’ll work together to do the best we can to help as many as we can. But you work with what you got.”