*This commentary from FSU President Ron Nowaczyk and ACM President Cynthia Bambara appeared in the February 13, 2020 edition of the Cumberland Times-News.
As presidents of Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland, we read with great concern the story, “Changes likely for Rocky Gap Fund,” published Feb. 2 (Page 1A).
The Times-News’ article reported that Allegany County’s Local Development Council for Rocky Gap slots allocation plans to terminate the Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship program at both colleges next year, without prior discussion with either institution.
We believe that the Local Development Council’s decision would in ways seen and unseen negatively impact county employers and residents for generations to come, specifically our high school graduates, displaced workers, single and working parents, nontraditional and first-generation students, veterans and career-changers.
This week, we met with members of the Allegany County delegation to the General Assembly who serve on the Local Development Council: Sen. George Edwards, Del. Jason Buckel and Del. Mike McKay. The meeting was cordial and informative for us and our representatives in Annapolis.
We spoke about the fact that the share of the approximately $2.4 million available in FY2019 granted to first responders increased from 10% to approximately 54% since the fund’s inception in 2014, while the amount allocated to the Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship program decreased from 70% to less than 25%.
That percentage funded scholarships for 738 Allegany County residents this past year — 738 students who earned a higher education in our county.
We reminded the delegation that in the Opportunity Scholarship program’s history, 1,129 students at FSU and 2,783 students at ACM chose to remain in Allegany County to attend college.
Without the modest scholarship dollars provided by gambling revenues from slot machines at Rocky Gap, how many would have left home to pursue their education elsewhere or simply never started their academic or career training?
How many more county residents would be underemployed or live below the poverty line had they not received an Opportunity Scholarship? How many employers would have left our region if they did not have a pipeline of locally educated and skilled workers who were scholarship program recipients?
We know the public is worried about the possibility of the Local Development Council eliminating this invaluable scholarship program because many parents, students and employers have contacted our offices. They are rightfully concerned about the loss of these funds.
As the presidents of FSU and ACM, we are keenly aware of the pressures and challenges we face in Allegany County.
Our institutions have made tremendous investments in the economic development of our county and region, and we continue to lead significant efforts to improve our area’s economic well-being. There is nothing more important to economic success than a trained, skilled and well-educated workforce.
We ask the members of the Local Development Council to reconsider their decision.
Without these scholarships, many county employers and residents will lack — as the name of scholarship program suggests — the opportunity for brighter and better futures in Allegany County.
As a result of our meeting with Sen. Edwards, Del. Buckel and Del. McKay, we are hopeful that such a result will be avoided.
Ron Nowaczyk, FSU President Cynthia Bambara, ACM President