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Panel debates college needs Task force agrees Md. higher education needs more funding; Other issues unresolved; Recommendations to be sent next month to General Assembly


As the task force studying Maryland's system of public higher education began discussing its final report yesterday, its members could agree on one issue -- give the schools more money.

After that, it got a bit more difficult.

"It's a matter of leadership and resources," Del. Howard P. Rawlings said as the task force ended months of fact-finding and turned to its recommendations at a hearing in Annapolis.

"The allocations for higher education have not been there," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "The system works. If we can get the funding to the right level, I don't think we have to be here all day."

The task force will meet again today to put its recommendations to the legislature in near-final form. Its report will be issued in the first week of the new year.

The sticky issues were those that caused the task force to be appointed -- the details of how authority should be shared among the college presidents, the University System of Maryland, which oversees 11 of the state's 13 public higher education schools, and the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), which approves programs at public and private state colleges and universities.

To many of the college presidents, having to get new programs approved by University System's Board of Regents and then by MHEC forces them to fight their way through two layers of bureaucracy.

"You don't need a belt and suspenders," said Lance W. Billingsley, who heads the Board of Regents.

Hoke Smith, president of Towson University, said private competitors like the Johns Hopkins University, Loyola College and the University of Phoenix, the for-profit school that is about to open in the area, can add programs with a speed his institution cannot muster.

'Need to react quickly'

"We need the ability to react quickly to a changing marketplace," he said.

To others, MHEC provides the only objective look at what is going on in the state.

"MHEC's review of programs is not that time-consuming, and it is the only statewide review," Rawlings said. "We need to have that type of entity."

Said Patricia S. Florestano, the state secretary of higher education who heads MHEC: "MHEC can say it is not in the state's interest to start another program in art history."

She rejected the call for it to be a purely advisory body. "Without some teeth, it would not be listened to," Florestano said.

Possible compromise

A possible compromise would be for MHEC to tell the schools what kinds of programs they can have, without requiring approval for each specific program.

"I would be persuaded to give presidents unlimited program approval within bands of programs that are consistent with the mission of their schools," said state Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

There appears to be broad support in the task force for continuing high levels of support to the College Park campus as the flagship of the state system. Consensus was more difficult to find as the members debated supporting research institutions vs. those devoted to undergraduate education and raising the academic level of the student body at the top schools vs. providing access to a larger number of students.

"A flagship does not have a lot of meaning without a fleet," said HTC Adm. Charles R. Larson, the retired Naval Academy superintendent who is chairman of the task force. "For the concept of a flagship to work, its excellence should trickle down to the other institutions."

'Basic issues'

Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the state system, said the discussion was familiar.

"These are the basic issues of higher education," he said. "This is the type of discussion you can hear in faculty meetings or every time the presidents of schools gather together."

Pub Date: 12/22/98

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