SOUTHERN MARYLAND – Students from the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recently participated in Student Advocacy Day, an annual event hosted by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC) that allows students to share with their legislators about the vital role of Maryland’s community colleges and how CSM is changing their lives.
“We’ve held Student Advocacy Day for over 20 years; it’s a powerful event for students and legislators, especially,” said Dr. Brad Phillips, executive director of MACC in a release. “For students, it’s an exciting opportunity to engage … and for legislators, it reveals the real-world impacts of their votes on a very granular level.”
The virtual day of lobbying took place Feb. 15 after a kickoff event in the morning, during which students heard from Maryland Senators Sarah Elfreth and Cory McCray, Maryland Del. Jared Solomon and Maryland Secretary of Higher Education, Dr. James Fielder. CSM students then met virtually with members of the Southern Maryland Delegation to share their personal experiences at community colleges and how proposed legislation would impact their lives. Key issues before the legislature this year are community college funding, transfer credits and financial aid.
“We appreciate that we share the same mission at heart—for both you as an elected official and us working at CSM, we strive to serve all people within our communities, and to lift the most vulnerable among us,” said CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy in introducing the students. “That’s why our work together as partners is imperative.”
Throughout the afternoon, CSM students spoke directly with Maryland Delegates Jerry Clark, Brian Crosby, Debra Davis, Rachel Jones, Edith Patterson, Susie Proctor, and C.T. Wilson, as well as Maryland Senators Jack Bailey and Arthur Ellis. Students also spoke with a representative for Del. Matt Morgan.
“It’s incumbent upon us to tout the wonderful job we’re doing at the community college, from certification, which sometimes is a few months, to the two-year completion for transfer. We are here to support you in all aspects of that. I will support any initiative that will fund and continue funding community colleges,” promised Patterson. “If we can reduce the debt ratio for any student, it’s something that we hope to do.”
CSM student Brianna Garcia, of St. Leonard, discussed the importance of financial aid for community college students, and asked legislators to continue to fully fund them. Several pieces of financial aid legislation aim to make student aid programs more accessible to community college students.
“I know how diligently you work to ensure that the students in our community have the resources, tools and educational experiences that they need to really help propel them into their academic futures and successful careers. I commend the college for everything you’ve done, particularly during this pandemic just to make sure that students still have access to education,” said Jones.
“I chose to attend CSM because it was the better choice for me and my family financially,” Garcia said. “For me, it is especially important that you continue to support the Maryland Promise scholarship because this is the only program in the state that is just for community college students. This is a need-based grant, and without it, many community college students just would not be able to continue their education.”
For CSM student Bree Kekesi, of Huntingtown, the most important issue was that legislators help provide community colleges with modern equipment so that they can be prepared for their future careers.
“Learning in an environment with state-of-the-art equipment is especially critical in healthcare,” Kekesi said. “It takes strong partnerships to help accomplish great things in our community, and this is why it is especially important that you support the Workforce Readiness Grant that will match private-sector donations made to community colleges for their technology needs.”
“We have to help the broader community to know and understand what a wonderful job community colleges do,” said Proctor. “I have a real sense of how [CSM is] transforming lives, not just for the students. It has a ripple effect in families and the community.”
Sofia West, of Prince Frederick, urged legislators to support the community college funding in the governor’s proposed budget. The proposed state budget would provide funding parity between the state’s four-year institutions and community colleges for the first time, but it still must be approved by the legislature.
“I am an example of countless students who wouldn’t be able to achieve our bachelor’s degrees without starting our degrees at CSM,” West told the Southern Maryland Delegation. “Please support the governor’s proposed budget that funds the operating and capital budgets for Maryland’s community colleges and the facilities renewal grants. By doing so you will be part of this historic moment that gives full funding of the community college formula and keeping tuition affordable for working students like myself.”
“You can put me on the record, I won’t be controlling exactly what goes into the budget, but I will be voting for the budget once it makes its way to the floor,” promised Crosby.
Student Rhey Gelly Mesowski, of Lexington Park, asked legislators to pass legislation that would streamline the transfer process. Transfer legislation introduced would make it easier for students to transfer between community colleges and Maryland’s public four-year institutions.
“I will be transferring to St. Mary’s College of Maryland with the goal to be a Statistician/Data Scientist,” Mesowski shared. “Transferring all my credits will be especially important. Streamlining the transfer system will make sure that students like myself aren’t wasting our limited financial resources on credits that go nowhere.”
“Getting a good education and starting out in a community college setting is a tremendous thing to do. The more you work to achieve something the more you’re going to value it, so you just keep working hard,” advised Clark.
Legislators responded with messages of support and encouragement for the students.
“I’m very proud of the students here. They very much articulate why we have a bright future in Southern Maryland,” said Ellis.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am of you for moving forward with your education, and it is our role as legislators to be there to help and support you,” agreed Bailey. “You have support behind you, not just with Dr. Murphy and the college, but here with us. Each and every one of you are the future leaders of our state and Southern Maryland and we will do what we can to support you.”
Davis emphasized the transformative power of education. “I know what the college can do, I know what happens when young people further their education,” she said. “I want you guys to keep up the good work and lean on us as much as you can.”
Wilson closed with words of wisdom for the students. “By pursuing an education, you’re investing in yourself. You are worth it, don’t forget that you are worth gambling on.”