President: Wor-Wic Overachieving While Underfunded

OCEAN CITY — Despite a remarkable record of success, Wor-Wic Community College is the most overachieving and under-funded institution in the state system, Ocean City business leaders learned this week.

At its first meeting after the summer season, the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) this week invited Wor-Wic Community College President Dr. Ray Hoy to provide an update on the status of the Lower Shore’s only community college.

Hoy painted a clear picture of the successes of Wor-Wic along with a rather dismal image of steadily declining funding for the institution.

According to Hoy, 11,500 local residents took classes at Wor-Wic including full time undergraduate students, part-timers, continuing education students and area residents currently employed as nurses, police officers, EMTs and hotel and motel employees. In fact, during the 10-year period from 1999 to 2009, Wor-Wic was the fastest growing community college in Maryland with enrollment increasing by 94 percent.

While Wor-Wic’s enrollment increased, so did the success of its students. For example, Wor-Wic has the highest transfer rate of students to four-year colleges and universities and also the highest graduation rate.

Its culinary and hotel, motel and restaurant programs supply frontline managers to Ocean City’s hospitality industry and all police officers on the Eastern Shore, with the exception of the Maryland State Police, come through Wor-Wic’s criminal justice program, which produces 1,000 officers a year, according to Hoy.

Despite its successes, Wor-Wic continually has to find ways to do more with less. The average cost for a full-time student at Wor-Wic is $6,900, or about half of the cost of most community colleges in the state. However, steadily declining state and local funding streams have created economic challenges for the institution.

According to an accepted state formula, the cost of sending a student to community college in Maryland should be shared in three equal parts, with 33 percent coming from the student, 33 percent coming from the state and 33 percent coming from local government.

At Wor-Wic, however, the current student share is around 48 percent, with the state providing 30 percent and local government providing 19 percent. In addition, the average local government contribution per student at community colleges across Maryland is $3,400, while at Wor-Wic, the figure is $1,300, the lowest in the state.

“We’re the most economically cost conscious and efficient community college in Maryland,” said Hoy on Wednesday. “Wor-Wic also receives less local funding than any community college in Maryland.”

Hoy said he realizes sagging state and local economies have led to cuts in funding for all institutions and programs, but because Wor-Wic had so little to begin with, the cuts are even more pronounced.

“These are tough economic times and everybody has to deal with that,” he said. “Unfortunately, we started at the bottom.”

As a result, Wor-Wic has had to find creative ways of sustaining the academic success of its students and the volume and quality of the programs it offers with much less funding. Despite its best efforts, the school has been forced to make some cuts of its own.

For example, Wor-Wic has been unable to fund its popular physical therapy and occupational therapy programs, has closed its facilities on Sundays, closed satellite facilities, and eliminated programs for senior citizens and other programs.

Hoy said the cost containment measures likely impacted 350 students this year, students who might otherwise find other diversions if they are not in school.

“I’m really concerned about those 350 students,” he said. “If they don’t come to us, they might end up in jail. We’re an institution of hope.”

Hoy said maintaining the level of student success and the quality of the academic programs continues to be a challenge, as does meeting growing state and federal mandates for the percentage of the population with a college degree. The new goal across the country is for 55 percent of the adult population to have a post-high school degree. Currently in Maryland, 41 percent of adults have a college degree, while on the Lower Shore, the number is 34 percent for Worcester, 30 percent for Wicomico and just 18 percent for Somerset.

Despite declining revenue streams and program cuts, Wor-Wic is attempting to be proactive and responsive to the needs of the community it serves. To that end, the community college is launching its “Rising to the Challenge” program, during which it will outline its strategic priorities. At the heart of the program is an aggressive fundraising campaign.

“We will continue to meet our goals despite the economic challenges,” Hoy told EDC members. “We are starting a fundraising campaign, but we need your help, not for the institution, but for the community. The needs and demand in this community are so great, but we can continue to meet those needs.”