LANHAM – An education at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) may be free to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) graduates in the coming years. On Monday, the Prince George’s Promise Scholarship Task Force met for a public hearing to discuss the possibility of making tuition at PGCC free to graduates of county public schools. […]
LANHAM – An education at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) may be free to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) graduates in the coming years.
On Monday, the Prince George’s Promise Scholarship Task Force met for a public hearing to discuss the possibility of making tuition at PGCC free to graduates of county public schools. The task force is chaired by Charlene Dukes, the president of PGCC, and various members of the education and business community, including Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, as well as Del. Alonzo Washington (D-22) and State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-21).
“This last session, the 2016 legislative session, I proposed a bill to county delegation to study a promise scholarship in Prince George’s County and how can it be formed and how can we pay for it, what are the eligibility requirements,” Washington said. “And so the delegation unanimously agreed with me and so did the state of Maryland.”
President Barack Obama, in his 2015 State of the Union address, introduced the promise scholarship program, which many communities across the nation have taken up – 150 to be exact – with a few already in Maryland.
“I want us to write that idea all across America so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is to them,” Obama said in 2015.
The Prince George’s task force consists of 16 members and has met on two occasions to discuss the logistics of the promise scholarship. Their discussions, according to Washington, have included everything from looking at how to pay for the program to the exact requirements students must meet to receive free community college.
Washington said the task force has not made any concrete decisions yet regarding if citizens who graduated from PGCPS before the proposed program begins would be eligible for the program, but did say he wants to model Prince George’s County’s promise scholarship after the one started in Tennessee.
“A lot of different localities do it differently,” Washington said. “One in Tennessee offers free tuition, completely. They filled the financial gap between the Pell grants and then also require community service and mentorship programs. This is the same program we’re trying to initiate here.”
Approximately 50 people attended the meeting Monday, though only a dozen spoke to the task force.
Some wanted to know the cost of the program, which W. Allen Richman with PGCC provided clarification on.
“There are a lot of caveats to this, a lot of options and the component we worked up was looking at also the expense of books,” Richman said. “We worked up a ‘last dollar’ so that federal or state funds would kick in first and would cover tuition and fees only, as well as one that would cover tuition and fees as well as books.”
Richman said PGCC is looking at about 500 scholars in the first year of the program, with 1,000 students rotating over two years. He said the estimated cost of the promise program for those students is approximately $2.5 million a year without books and $3.2 million with books.
Washington, as well as Dukes, said the task force is looking into multiple sources of funding for the program, including partnerships with the business community and with the colleges in the county, such as University of Maryland and Bowie State University.
“We’re going to ask the business community to chime into this too,” Washington said. “I don’t want to raise taxes. Let’s make that clear. I do not want to raise taxes to pay for this.”
Deni Taveras, county councilwoman for District 2, offered some ideas for revenue during her time at the mic and said the county should repeal TRIM and consider taxing churches to pay for the program.
Every single county resident who spoke at the public hearing voiced support for the program, though many did not offer a solution for paying for the program. Instead, many offered criteria for students to meet to receive the scholarship and offered ideas for curriculum. Many suggested making students sign a contract stating they would stay in Prince George’s County once they left PGCC.
Donna Nelson, a former Parent Teacher Association president at Greenbelt Middle School, spoke at the meeting and said she supports the promise program because it could benefit her family.
“We’re falling in the cracks of the financial situation with college. My son is a very intelligent student, but financially I can’t afford it,” she said. “I can’t afford college. Unless somebody is going to give us an academic scholarship, he can’t go.”
And Washington said it is stories like Nelson’s that power the drive to create a promise program in the county.
“It is not just about free tuition for community college, it is about providing opportunity and economic benefits to our students and to our people here in Prince George’s County,” Washington said.
The task force will have two more public hearings, on Oct. 20 and Nov. 2, before developing their recommendations. Those suggestions are due to County Executive Rushern Baker, III by Jan. 1.