2-year college in Harford seeks to offer full degrees


When Lundy DeGrange is not cooking, cleaning, caring for her two daughters or tending bar at the Musical Inn in Aberdeen, she's taking classes at Harford Community College.

DeGrange, a 34-year-old single parent, is pursuing her dream of earning a bachelor's degree in computer information systems, which she thinks will make life better for her and her family.

She worries about that dream.

"If I have to go to University of Delaware or the University of Baltimore to get my bachelor's degree, I probably won't be able to do it," said DeGrange, who lives in Bel Air. "It would be too much traveling, too much time away from the family."

Her dream is linked to legislation before lawmakers in Annapolis that would allow Harford Community College to make education history by becoming the first community college in the state to offer a limited number of four-year degree programs. Though the proposal had previously been rejected, local legislators are pressing for it again.

Making history has nothing to do with college President Claudia E. Chiesi's strong push for the legislation.

She sees her role, and that of the school, as serving the community. "We've had 600 students who have graduated in the past six years that simply have not moved on to get their bachelor's degree," she said. "We believe that 40 percent of them would have stayed on and benefited from a bachelor's degree if it was available."

Chiesi said many of her students, for various reasons, can't travel out of the area to further their education.

"We don't have a reliable transportation system in Harford County," Chiesi said. "Students can't hop on a bus or a train and go to Towson."

Aiding employees

HCC would like to offer bachelor's degrees in technology, professional studies and applied sciences. "All three are intended to move people rapidly into the work force in special areas," Chiesi said.

She said the college would like to offer degree programs for health care workers seeking to advance their careers and for farmers needing technical training.

In the agriculture area, there could be equine science degrees to serve the county's large horse population. Students could be trained in landscaping, dairy farming and golf course management, classes not offered by other schools.

Other classes would teach computer-assisted drafting and design.

"The purpose is to get people moving into careers and moving up in their professions," Chiesi said.

She pointed out that the county does not have a four-year institution. (It does, however, have several out-of-county institutions, such as the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in various majors at the Harford County Higher Education and Technology Center.)

Florida has moved in the direction that Chiesi wants to go. The legislature there has given community colleges the opportunity to offer four-year degrees in areas of the state that have a severe shortage of personnel, such as teachers, or where schools are located far from a four-year university.

Teacher certification

Although it is not included in the current bill, the college would also like to offer teacher certification classes and four-year teacher education degrees.

"There is a tremendous shortage of teachers in the state and in the county," Chiesi said. "The state needs thousands of teachers, and in Harford County, we need hundreds of teachers. Depending upon when you ask, the county will need between 200 and 350 new teachers."

Another potential beneficiary of a four-year degree program at HCC is Lindsay Shagawat. Although she is interested in journalism and writes for The Harford Owl, the school paper, Shagawat, 21, of Bel Air, thinks about being a teacher.

And, she would like to receive her training at HCC.

"This is my home," she said. "This is where I grew up. I want to stay in this area."

Shagawat and DeGrange will be fighting the odds in Annapolis to get their way.

Del. Barry Glassman, Republican chairman of the Harford County legislative delegation, anticipates a tough battle.

"This is a new idea, and sometimes in Annapolis it takes three or four sessions for a new idea to take hold," Glassman said.

A hearing on the legislation is scheduled Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee. This is the same committee that killed the legislation last year.

Glassman said there are new members on the committee this year, and he hopes for more favorable treatment.

Because it has statewide implications, Glassman said the bill is not afforded local courtesy by the General Assembly. With local courtesy, the bill would need passage only by the Harford delegation to win approval of the General Assembly.

Glassman anticipates strong opposition to the bill from the University System of Maryland, which operates 11 four-year colleges and universities in the state.

Tough opposition

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System, said, "We opposed the bill last year and will do so again this year."

He said that when the state established the two-year and four-year programs, they were designed to allow students an easy transition.

"There isn't a new reason to expand a two-year school to a four-year school," he said. "I think it would be a backward step that would blur the line between a two-year school's responsibility and the mission of four-year schools."

To improve the bill's chances of passage, Glassman said he would stress that it be tailored to Harford County's needs.

The legislation would also contain a five-year, six-month sunset provision. Lawmakers would have to vote to extend the plan after that period.

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