Montgomery’s Undervalued Gem

In votes on the Montgomery County budget, Councilmember Craig Rice expressed deep unhappiness about the process and cuts to the Montgomery College (MC) budget:

Montgomery College’s budget was severely cut which could mean even greater increases in tuition than originally proposed, reductions to strategic programs designed to reduce the achievement gap and eliminate disparities, or reductions in staff pay. And none of these things will help us to address workforce disparities that our community college has been partners with us on fixing for many years…

I can’t speak to the process, though the last time I saw Craig speak out publicly in this way was to defend constituents against George Leventhal’s atrocious behavior on the dais. I also am not knowledgeable to assess MC staff pay.

What I can tell you is that Montgomery College is the least discussed major asset in the county and does far more good than will ever get mentioned. In particular, it does more to promote upward mobility than any other institution.

For starters, it provides an affordable, accessible path to a college education. The idea of taking out ginormous loans to pay for an away-from-home school like UMD understandably scares the bejeezus out of many people who loathe debt and have never seen remotely that much money. It’s also not the most cost effective way to pay for a college education. The cost effectiveness of MC also means that government gets far more bang for its buck in terms of outcomes.

MC makes it possible for students to live at home and pursue degrees at their own pace, commonly while holding down a job to support themselves or help defray the far more affordable cost. Students who earn their associates degree are also then well prepared, if they choose, to pursue a four-year degree at a college like UMD.

Another virtue of many of MC’s educational programs is that they are geared toward obtaining practical skills in various areas that lend themselves to employment immediately upon graduation in fields as diverse as teaching, hotel management, nursing, and cybersecurity. As a result, it provides students with skills that result in higher wage employment and employers with more highly skilled employees, which makes Montgomery a more attractive place to do business.

Additionally, MC provides needed vocational training. Too often, education is talked about in terms of college or nothing. But not everyone wants to or is going to college and a lot of jobs require skills. As anyone who has hired a plumber or had their or A/C unit fixed knows, many non-professional jobs pay a lot better than unskilled labor.

In short, what MC provides is a range of real opportunities for students looking to move up the ladder at an affordable cost to both the students and the government. Ramping up institutions like the University of Maryland has aided the state and DC suburbs enormously. But we should not underrate the role played by Montgomery College in not just training students but also providing many different employers with skilled workers.