Towson University will be allowed to construct and operate a new branch on the campus of Harford Community College, under a decision released Friday afternoon by the state's interim secretary of higher education.
The $25 million project will proceed despite previously expressed reservations from Morgan State University leaders, who questioned the fairness of allowing Towson to stake a foothold in Harford County, a growing suburb with a rich base of military jobs and no four-year universities.
The better solution, Morgan officials have said, would be to create a center on the community college campus that could be used by universities from around the state.
But the building will "provide a much-needed location for students residing in the Northeast Region of Maryland to complete their baccalaureate programs near their homes and places of employment," wrote interim Secretary Danette G. Howard.
Morgan spokesman Clinton Coleman made no mention of the university's concerns in a statement reacting to the decision. "Morgan's position has always been that the citizens of Cecil and Harford County should have access to four-year higher education and professional degree programs," Coleman said. He added that Morgan looks forward to "working in collaboration with all institutions of higher education to serve that need."
Harford leaders had clamored for the Towson project, saying the county's students badly needed more sources of higher education. They had grown impatient after waiting 18 months for a decision on the proposed building.
Howard's decision "certainly made my day, in fact it made my year," said Dennis Golladay, president of Harford Community College. "Everybody in our community will be elated at this news."
Golladay said travel time and costs probably prevented many HCC graduates from completing bachelor's degrees at Towson's main campus. The decision "really puts education first and really puts students first," he said. "And that's how it should be."
Under an agreement between Towson and the community college, HCC students would move to the building to complete the final two years of bachelor's degrees in education, business and psychology.
Howard offered two compromise solutions to Morgan in the letter, saying the university could opt to pay for 50 percent of construction and share the building equally with Towson or sign an unbreakable lease to use space in the facility. Morgan has a year to exercise either option.
Both offers were on the table before Howard made her decision, but Morgan State President David Wilson has said that Morgan did not want to share space in the "2+2" building.
"Morgan will have the opportunity to say yea or nay," Golladay said. "And that's a good thing."
Morgan has already received permission to offer a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the community's college's Bel Air campus.
Towson President Maravene Loeschke, who could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon, has said the project makes sense because so many HCC graduates proceed to her university anyway. Towson simply stepped forward to meet an obvious regional need, she said in an interview last week.
The state university system will issue bonds to pay for construction of the building, but Towson will assume the debt.
Howard's letter said the project is expected to be completed in 21 months.