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Coffee with Montgomery College President Pinkney

I had coffee the other day with Hercules Pinkney, interim president of Montgomery College. We met at Hollywood Diner in Rockville, gathering place for the county's movers and shakers.

Pinkney became president in September following the unexpected trustee vote to remove Brian K. Johnson, who had lost support of faculty and had been accused of overspending.

Pinkney had recently retired as vice president and provost of the school's Germantown campus.

On his first day on campus, Pinkney told me, "What I have done in the few hours I've been here is try to walk around, let them see me, so they have tangible evidence that there is change. The smiles on their faces, the lighting up of their eyes, said to me we're in for a good change."

Several months later, Pinkney said he still reaps gratitude just for showing up every day for work. "A day doesn't go by that I don't run into somebody who says, 'Thank you so much for coming back,'" he said.

But now, the college is struggling for another reason. Pinkney said the budget proposed last month by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) called for a 12-percent reduction in funds to the community college, which serves 26,000 students in degree and certificate programs.

With a prospective budget $15 million below what the college requested, Pinkney said, the college will face unprecedented cuts.

"In effect," he said, "we're being asked to operate three campuses with funding for only two." The college has campuses in Silver Spring/Takoma Park and Germantown, in addition to its Rockville base.

"We'll have to look at things like library hours, curtailing those," Pinkney said. "All of the support systems that help students succeed in college, we'll have to cut back all of those."

Staff might face as many as 10 days of furloughs -- which means, I think, that faculty will work but not get paid, because faculty don't typically work a five-day, 40-hour week in the first place.

Tuition, $102 per credit hour for county residents, was already scheduled to increase $3 and will go up $5 in light of the cuts.

With fewer sections available in summer and fall, the average student is likely to find that it takes longer and costs more to finish his or her education, Pinkney said.

Community colleges everywhere are struggling amid a historic downturn in state funding for higher education.

Has Montgomery College been hit harder than others?

Pinkney gently chided the leaders of his county -- none of whom were at Hollywood Diner just then -- for playing politics with funding decisions.

"If I looked at the county school system, I could make a case that [the cut to the college] was disproportionate," he said. When choosing between funding the school system and the college, he said, "a politician doesn't have to make much of a decision here."

The numbers, in this instance, are tricky. I believe both Pinkney and Montgomery schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast sometimes measure cuts as the amount the budget falls below what they have requested for the next fiscal year, not the change from what they are receiving in the current fiscal year.

On a year-to-year basis, according to Leggett's office, the school system faces a reduction of $79.5 million, or 3.9 percent; and the college a cut of $8.3 million, or 3.8 percent. Both agencies contend their cuts are deeper, but I believe that is because they are counting down from a larger number.

For both education systems, Pinkney said, the budget "is really a reversal of the investment they've been making over the years."

Pinkney believes the college has recovered from the turbulence over the Johnson presidency, which put Montgomery College on the front page of The Washington Post for the first time in a while.

"It's as if it didn't happen. That's the sense I get when I talk to the business community, when I talk to elected officials," Pinkney said.

The interim president noted that his public calender "is online. Anyone can look and see where I am," a gesture of transparency; faculty quipped that his predecessor was frequently absent without account. Johnson denied this.

April 2 was the deadline to apply for the permanent presidency. Pinkney is not among the more than 50 applicants.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  April 22, 2010; 2:24 PM ET
Categories:  Access , Administration , Admissions , Community Colleges , Finance , Public policy  | Tags: Brian K. Johnson, Hercules Pinkney, Montgomery College, Montgomery College Pinkney, Montgomery College budget  
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Comments

Is Montgomery College highly regarded as a smart stepping stone to college, like NOVA seems to be in Northern Virginia? The Montgomery County public schools are usually ranked in the top 10 in the country, and there's a lot of wealth in the county. I'm guessing most residents move there, and focus on, the public primary and secondary schools, and don't worry so much about the Community College resources. CC can certainly be a great way for students to save money getting basic courses out of the way while living at home and paying low tuition, but maybe the residents of Montgomery County don't even consider it an option?

Posted by: dawn-wise | April 23, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Dawn-wise,

Montgomery College has a strong national and local reputation with nearly 5,000 students (with 12 or more credits) transferring to four-year colleges and universities around the country. Plus, every Montgomery County high school sends more of its graduates to Montgomery College than any other college or university in Maryland, including the University of Maryland. Like you said, quality education, dedicated faculty and staff, and affordable tuition make Montgomery College a wise choice.

Posted by: ehoman | April 23, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Dawn-wise,
It's amazing how stereotyping an entire county can lead to inaccuracy of facts or mere "guessing." For anybody who lives in Montgomery County, they know first hand that the dominant demographic is NOT West Potomac, Dan Snyder's River Road, or neatly-pressed private school kids. Unfortunately, some uninformed folks tend to believe that's the case. At Montgomery College, over 170 different countries are represented amongst the student body and countless numbers of these students have one chance at a new life, and it often begins with the college.

Furthermore, my wife happens to be a teacher at a Title I elementary school in Gaithersburg where the majority of her students wouldn't entertain the idea of higher education if not for the community college just up the road from them.

I'd venture a "guess" that more County residents than you'll ever realize consider MC as not just an option or a stepping stone, but a VITAL cog to bettering their lives.

Posted by: JEDBX1 | April 26, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

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