ROCKVILLE — Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D) paid a visit to Montgomery College in Rockville on Oct. 7 to meet with students specializing in STEM fields and entrepreneurship.
Cardin also met with university administrators to discuss issues facing Montgomery College and other institutions of higher education. The group talked about topics ranging from tuition to the Trump administration.
Cardin was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and is a ranking member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. According to his office, he also has a keen interest in education. This interest focuses on STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, which has become increasingly popular as more jobs rely on technological and computer skills.
In his discussion over lunch with school administrators, Cardin explained that he is a big supporter of community colleges, because they can more easily meet the needs of students than many four-year institutions.
“I’m a big fan of community colleges. I think it’s not only the best value that’s for sure, the most reasonably priced, but you’re getting a great product that for most students is where they need to be,” Cardin said. “So, community colleges are able to adjust quickly to the needs of the community, unlike four-year institutions that have contract issues that can make it very difficult for them to shift gears as quickly as our nation needs them to shift.”
He noted that Montgomery College is in a unique position, because for years it has attracted a diverse student population and has close proximity to successful businesses, the federal government and non-governmental organizations that offer many job opportunities when students are finished with their schooling.
One of the issues facing Montgomery College and institutions of higher education all over the country is funding, or lack thereof.
“I mentioned earlier that I’m a big fan of the Kirwan Commission for many reasons, not the least of which is that I believe that educators should be elevated to the professional status that they deserve, and to me that is one of the hallmarks of the Kirwan Commission,” he said.
According to the Maryland State Archives, the Kirwan Commission was created in 2016 and is tasked with reviewing and assessing current educational financing formulas and measures of accountability. Based on these assessments, the commission makes recommendations on legislative and policy initiatives to “increase the availability of innovative educational opportunities and make adequate and equitable funding for State public education.”
Cardin went on to say that to ensure young people are ready for their next step of education and eventually to join the workforce as well-educated members of the community, every level of schooling needs to be well funded.
“We need to recognize that we need to have students prepared to meet the next level of their need, so by the fourth grade you have to be able to read and comprehend, too many of our students are not. By the time you finish high school you should be ready for college or a trade school, and you shouldn’t have to go through remedial work to get the basic education that is being given in our school system,” he said.
He noted the importance of providing enough funding as opposed to slashing funding for education.
“Increasing our commitment not taking away our commitment (of funding) is the solution,” he said. “Higher education is too expensive in this country; community college is too expensive in this country, and they’re the best value that we have.”
Cardin explained that one challenge that faces the proper funding of educational institutions is the Trump administration.
“The Trump administration doesn’t carry out, many times, the will of the Congress. President Trump believes he is also the legislative branch, so we’ve had problems with the Department of Education; we’ve had problems with every single department in carrying out the appropriations requests of Congress,” he said.
Cardin explained that despite the roadblocks from the Trump administration, he expects that Maryland will be able to pass appropriations bills for education later this fall.
The senator also met with students studying entrepreneurship at Montgomery College and spoke with them about the importance of small businesses.
He heard from Sydnie Brown and Naing Oak, two members of Raptor Tank, which is a student organization that holds an annual competition to promote student startup ideas, much like the ABC show Shark Tank.
Participants are offered a variety of workshops during the fall semester; the winner of Raptor Tank earns $5,000 in seed money for their venture.
Cardin explained that the Maryland-based company Under Armour started out as a small business. It became a successful company after its founder created new materials for athletes and used innovation to grow his business.
“The success of our economy depends on small businesses, small business owners who find a better way to do business (are innovators) and they create jobs,” said Cardin.