In addition to urging a merger of University of Maryland at Baltimore and University of Maryland Baltimore County (see above editorial), the Maryland Higher Education Commission's new master plan addresses two other priorities mandated in the 1988 higher education law -- improving the state's "flagship" campus at College Park and enhancing Maryland's historically black colleges and universities. Both recommendations are good ones.
The commission wants College Park protected against future budget cuts. College Park is the state's only comprehensive public research university and deserves special attention at budget time. Depending on the depth of the state's financial problems, it may not be possible to "hold harmless" the College Park budget, as the commission suggests. But when money is tight (or even when it is not), the state needs to make tough decisions based on its priorities. In the last round of budget cuts, all campuses were treated equally. This is not the way to turn College Park into a nationally recognized research university. Nor is it a wise or efficient way to spend limited taxpayer dollars.
To enhance black colleges, the commission proposes studying a consolidation of Morgan State University and Coppin State College. This possible combination has been neglected in prior Baltimore-area merger proposals. It deserves an in-depth look at the benefits (or costs) of combining Morgan and Coppin. These two historically black campuses have each improved themselves recent years, but what if a two-campus university turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts? That would be a real boost for Baltimore. Care must be taken, however, to involve the community in this dialogue and to make sure there are genuine gains to be realized. Concentrating resources can often lead to impressive gains for students, faculty and the community.
Improvements in higher education come slowly. The new Maryland Higher Education Commission and the reorganized University of Maryland System and its board of regents are still trying to work out a smooth relationship. Any proposed change is sure to energize those committed to retaining the status quo. But this has not deterred the commission. Its statewide plan is a commendable step forward that dares to challenge the status quo.