Mayor Pugh Proposes Offering Free Community College to Graduating High Schoolers

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Photo via Baltimore City Community College

One piece of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s newly released violence-reduction plan rests on the idea that a financial jumpstart for college-bound high school grads can help keep them out of harm’s way.

Under pressure from community members and City Council members, Pugh unveiled her crime-fighting game plan yesterday morning at a press conference at City Hall. Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the council’s public safety committee, had pressed her on the plan throughout the summer, and hundreds of residents rallied to call for its release last week after 97-year-old Waddell Tate was murdered in his home.

“I didn’t come into City Hall without a vision for moving the city forward,” Pugh said at the presser. “I just don’t want people to think we came into City Hall without a plan, because we did. The plan was very specific on what our focus would be, on transparency, on upgrading our police department, on technology and so forth that was needed.”

Included in a 20-page summary of the mayor’s plan are four chief strategies: improving public safety, ramping up resources to boost public health, better engaging the city’s youth and using long-term investments to “move Baltimore forward.”

The first two and the fourth tenets include ideas the mayor has trumpeted in her first half-year in office, such as hiring more police officers and putting more of them on patrol, finally offering 21st-century technology in squad cars, boosting access to Naloxone for overdose victims and drug treatment for users, and creating more jobs in the long run.

But in the third category, the mayor proposed something she hadn’t discussed publicly: offering free community college to graduating high school seniors. Under her plan, tuition at Baltimore City Community College would be free, starting with the 2018 graduating class.

The mayor touted the idea as “an investment in our young people.” She said it would entail not just waiving the fees, but also tracking high schoolers preparing to graduate. “We want to know what colleges and universities they’re going to,” she said.

Pugh also mentioned the free rides offered by schools like Johns Hopkins and Morgan State universities to high-achieving city students. Pugh said President Ronald Daniels of Hopkins told her about 20 students receive such scholarships each year. She said Morgan offers the same to “35 or 50” students.

The mayor said she plans to meet with the presidents of all of the city’s universities “to find out what are they doing in terms of making sure that our people go to college.”

Baltimore wouldn’t be the first major U.S. city to try out free community college. Detroit last year launched a similar option in the form of scholarships, with funds coming from both private and public sources. San Francisco this year became the first city to cover community college costs for all graduating seniors, and Tennessee, Rhode Island, New York and Oregon all offer free community college statewide.

Asked about costs, the mayor said, “there are about…500 to 1,000 young people. Do the math, it’s $1.5 million. It’s not a lot of money.”

Ethan McLeod
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