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In Second Year, Baltimore County Free Tuition Program Enrollment Booms


The number of students participating in a program that offers free tuition at the Community College of Baltimore County has nearly tripled this year. 

School officials hope even more students will get the College Promise scholarship, which is beginning its second year this month.


College Promise is intended to help students whose families earn too much money to qualify for income-based scholarships but still can’t easily afford college.


But last year, only 111 scholarships went out to a class of nearly 12,000 full-time students at CCBC.


A screenshot of a Baltimore Sun article attributed to "Baltimore Sun Staff"
Credit John Lee
CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis.

CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis said the program got off to a slow start last year. 


“We had to learn how to do it,” she said. “We had to learn how to fit it in. We had to learn how to market it.”


Nearly 300 students are on board this academic year, with more likely to be added because the scholarships are awarded on a rolling basis. 


This academic year, the number of students getting College Promise could be four times what it was in 2018, Kurtinitis said, adding that the school wants to spend every dime of the nearly $1 million the county budgeted for the program. If a greater number of qualified students apply than are budgeted for, she said they’ll figure something out.


“At this point, we’re going to make sure everyone’s taken care of,” Kurtinitis said. “How we do it, I don’t know yet.”


In an emailed statement, County Executive Johnny Olszewski said education is a priority. But he did not respond to questions about whether he could guarantee additional financial help if CCBC uses up all of its budgeted College Promise money.


Meanwhile, Maryland started a statewide “Community College Promise” program this year, setting aside nearly $15 million. 


But according to Rhonda Wardlaw, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, less than a third of that money has been awarded. So far, nearly 1,300 students have received the state scholarship. 


More than 160 of those students are attending CCBC, according to CCBC financial aid director Ginny Zawodny.


“Just like we struggled last year rolling out our Baltimore County promise program, we had the same type of situation with the Maryland Promise,” Zawodny said.


Students can use either the state scholarship or the county scholarship, but not both. Both programs cover the cost of tuition and all mandatory fees that were not paid for by other financial awards such as Pell Grants or other scholarships. 


To qualify for the county program, students need a GPA of at least a 2.3  and must have received a high school diploma or GED in the last four years. They also have to enroll in CCBC full time, and their families’ annual household incomes must be no more than $150,000.


The statewide College Promise program also requires students to work in Maryland after graduation for the same number of years as the length of time their tuition was covered. 


Baltimore County’s program does not have a similar requirement, but Kurtinitis said 95% of CCBC students already stay in the county after they finish their studies. 


Middle River resident Epiphany Morris is applying for College Promise to pursue a career in nursing. The 21 year old got her GED two years ago. She was planning to take just one class this fall, a phlebotomy course. But if her tuition is covered, she can afford to go to school full time and launch her career earlier.


“It was a little bit sooner with the College Promise because when they announced it I was like, ‘Oh, that actually works well with my plans right now,’” she said.


Ginny Michalak was at a recent presentation about the College Promise program with her husband and two daughters, both rising high school seniors.


“They’re twins that will be applying this year to various colleges and universities,” she said, “so the expenses start adding up pretty quick.”


John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.
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