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O'Malley Visits AACC for Student Roundtable on Higher Education

The governor asked students how they balanced their work, education and family time, and if tuition was becoming a problem.

Gov. Martin O'Malley surrounded himself with some of the brightest minds at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) to gather thoughts on where higher education should be headed.

As he moves into the next legislative session, O'Malley said there are shifting sands in today's marketplace that students need to be prepared for and he wanted ideas on the challenges students are facing.

"We've got to find more flexible and cost-effective ways to get people's skillset levels up to the current job demands," O'Malley said. "I'm on a mission to figure this out in Maryland, and to do it ahead of other states."

He asked students how they balanced their work, education and family time, and if tuition was becoming a problem.

Darius Butler, 25, of Annapolis, said as a student who suffers from ADHD, he thinks institutions should do a better job managing someone with his disabilities.

"I struggled my way through [high] school, but after learning about the disability support services here, it definitely has been a great help," Butler said.

Butler also said finances are still a big issue. Students are having to prioritize what their options in life are, and sometimes it's work and family over education. Students who may be $1 over the cutoff for federal aid still may not be in a position to pay their full way through college, Butler said.

It's not just students who are facing financial difficulties, either. AACC President Dawn Lindsay said the school's headcount had declined, and fewer students were taking full-time course loads this year—likely as a result of the economic downturn. The college had to raise its tuition this year to compensate for the change. However, Lindsay said they were analyzing what could be done to curb the trend, and move forward.

Marcelle Lee, of Severna Park, said her chosen field of cybersecurity was blossoming across the country but many jobs require government clearance, which isn't always easy to get.

The governor questioned why there was such a barrier to entry in a burgeoning field. With demand in cybersecurity growing, he said he would like to clarify the standards in the field, and make these jobs easier to obtain for qualified applicants.

O'Malley also spent time discussing a $2 million Early College Learning Innovation grant pool, which can be used by local school systems to further explore the marriage of high school and college coursework. The fund is part of a series of initiatives folded into the 2014 budget O'Malley has been discussing lately.

He spoke with Katelyn Tiffner, 17, a student at Northeast High School in Pasadena. Tiffner is a member of the Jumpstart Program, which allows high school students to take college level courses for college credit. She could end her high school career with up to 12 college credits already earned.

O'Malley said he sees great potential in that kind of blended education experience.

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