The universities will also operate a joint center of bioinformatics, a discipline that blends computer science with medicine and biology.

Though the universities will offer a combined master's program in public health, the existing programs will retain their physical presences in College Park and Baltimore. Kirwan said students wouldn't be forced to commute between the campuses, though he said "to get the full benefit of the school, they would probably want to take classes in both places."

He predicted that the addition of Baltimore's epidemiology program to the broader public health offerings in College Park would likely vault the combined school in national rankings.

The combined school will have to receive accreditation before offering degrees. Kirwan said he expects that process to move quickly.

The most obvious manifestation of the partnership will occur in Montgomery County, where Kirwan said the system needs to make a greater impact.

"There's such a technology base there," the chancellor said. "They are hungry for real, live university researchers."

The system will appoint a new dean to oversee the collaborations at Shady Grove, which will include undergraduate and graduate programs in everything from law to business to biosciences.

Some students could end up taking the bulk of their classes at the Shady Grove campus, Kirwan said, and the first wave of new programs could be available as soon as fall 2013.

System leaders hope the initiative in Montgomery County will be a key piece in overall efforts to capitalize financially on the ideas of top scientists, engineers and doctors.

O'Malley said the university system does an outstanding job of producing research but a less outstanding job of converting that research to business and jobs.

"That can only come about by strengthening the connections we have," the governor said. "This partnership will allow us to realize what other states have realized."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts