Lowbrow leadership from those in charge of higher education [Editorial]

It's possibly as good an idea as has been broached in the world of post-high school education since the G.I. Bill or the inception of what were once called junior colleges, yet it was given rude and cavalier treatment late last year by the Maryland Board of Public Works, or at least two of its three members.

The good idea is the opening of satellite branches of established institutions in the Maryland university system at community colleges, specifically plans by Towson University to build a branch operation at Harford Community College.

As is the case with far too many human endeavors, there is a propensity within the management of various institutions of higher learning to expand their holdings. Such bureaucratic imperialism turned Cecil Community College, a respected part of the Maryland junior college system, into Cecil College, a four-year institution that serves as little more than a second or third tier safety school.

The notion of turning Harford Community College into a four-year college has been raised before, but has yet to gain traction. The junior college, or community college, ideal is one that offers a ground level college start at a ground level price, enabling students to finish their educations elsewhere, after garnering the basics locally, and relatively inexpensively.

Having publicly funded community colleges form partnerships with publicly funded state colleges and universities builds nicely on this egalitarian model of providing reasonably priced high quality higher education for all who seek it. Also, such a partnership reflects a level of fiscal responsibility because it allows each institution to focus on what it already does well without having to re-invent the wheel to do something new.

Clearly, none of this was at the forefront of thinking when Gov. Martin O'Malley and State Comptroller Peter Franchot, two members of the triumvirate Maryland Board of Public Works, voted down a small portion of funding for the Towson University building at HCC, effectively delaying the project for a few weeks.

Their rationale had nothing to with the merits of the project. Instead, they were expressing irritation with the leadership at Towson University over its decision to meet federal sports funding requirements by cutting baseball and soccer. This move, by the way, was every bit as bone-headed as that made by the governor and the comptroller because it had the stale aroma of a political trick designed to secure a level of state funding for college athletic programs.

In recent weeks, the issue has been resolved, and a groundbreaking ceremony for the Towson building at HCC is planned for the end of this month.

Unfortunately, the majority of philosophical discussions relating to the whole fiasco relate largely to the merits of Title IX, the federal regulation that requires equal opportunities for men and women in publicly funded athletics. While it's a lively debate for most folks, it has the public policy repercussions of debates about the finer points of causes of the Civil War. The long and short of Title IX is, while it may have flaws, it's a good idea that has been in place for decades.

A more pressing issue that often fails to get so much as a second for purposes of discussion is that of the costs, goals and availability of college level education for all who are willing to work for it. At present, the cost is high, the goals are amorphous and the opportunities shrinking for those of modest means.

Ideas like universities and junior colleges forming alliances to offer convenient and inexpensive alternatives for those who want to better themselves are deserving of a good deal more public discussion than has been afforded them.

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