UB/Towson plan for MBA program faces opposition

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A plan to offer a joint MBA program next fall at two Baltimore-area public universities might be derailed by opposition from the state and several private schools, who fear the proposed offering would hurt enrollments elsewhere.

The state university system's regents have approved expanding the University of Baltimore's Master of Business Administration program and creating a joint program with Towson University. But the plan needs the approval of state higher education officials, who are concerned the new program would attract students who would otherwise attend one of Maryland's historically black colleges and universities.

Several private institutions say Maryland's MBA marketplace is saturated and that there is no need for another graduate business program. Two have written formal letters of protest to the state.

"It's like if Quiznos Subs comes in and takes on the small Italian deli that's provided great sandwiches for years. The small business is going to lose," said Christopher Blake, vice president for academic affairs at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg.

University system officials say the program would give a needed boost to Towson, the state's second-largest public university. Towson has a popular undergraduate business department but does not offer an MBA.

Advocates of the joint program also contend that private schools are overreacting, and they are preparing a rebuttal for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which is expected to decide this month whether to approve the program.

"For [private schools] to tell Maryland not to offer a degree ... doesn't make any sense to me," said Clifford M. Kendall, chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. "After all, this is capitalism."

Hopes for Towson

In the beginning, the joint program would primarily use UB business faculty to teach courses, while splitting classes between the two campuses. System officials believe the expanded MBA program would attract about 30 additional students the first year. About 400 people take graduate businesses administration courses at UB.

State officials are anticipating an influx of up to 40,000 additional college students over the next decade, and they hope to steer many of them toward Towson. They believe that the university will be less appealing without an MBA program.

"It is unrealistic of us to have high expectations for Towson to grow in terms of the number of students and in terms of quality if we don't give them the tools to grow," said David H. Nevins, a regent and Towson alumnus.

System officials also say that Loyola College and the Johns Hopkins University control a disproportionate share of the MBA market. Almost 80 percent of Baltimore-area residents who received an MBA last year attended Loyola or Hopkins, according to state statistics.

"We could offer them a much more affordable option," said Robert L. Caret, Towson's president.

The UB/Towson program would charge $415 per credit hour the first year. Loyola charges $500 per credit hour; it costs $480 to $620 per credit hour to attend Hopkins. Loyola formally opposes the new program, while Hopkins has not voiced an objection.

"For a private institution to stand in the way of a public one, especially one that can offer much lower tuition, is not an appropriate political stance," Caret said.

Loyola had the first accredited MBA program in Baltimore, and it is one of the university's best-known degrees. The college offers its graduate business program at its campuses in Timonium and Columbia.

"Millions of dollars were invested in these facilities, based upon a business plan that projected increased enrollments in and revenue from our MBA programs. The entry of an MBA program offered by Towson University (alone or with the University of Baltimore) could negatively impact the realization of that business plan," David C. Haddad, Loyola's vice president for academic affairs, said in a letter to the higher education commission.

Loyola officials and others also argue that there are not enough potential MBA students to support another program. About 1,000 students take MBA courses at Loyola, and officials there say they have room for up to 500 more.

About 2,500 Maryland residents took the Graduate Management Admission Test last year, nearly 200 fewer than in 2002, according to a recent survey. Public schools are "overestimating the market," said Tina M. Bjarekull, president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association. If more schools start competing for fewer students, private institutions might suffer, she said.

Some private universities also worry that a UB/Towson program could expand to other parts of Maryland by using the public system's buildings in Hagerstown and Shady Grove. About 70 people a year graduate from Mount St. Mary's MBA program in Frederick County each year, and school officials believe they accommodate the Western Maryland market. "It strikes me that people's needs are being addressed," Blake said. "There's no need for a Goliath to come here."

UB and Towson officials said they do not plan to expand their program beyond the Baltimore region. If they ever did, they said, they would need the state's approval.

Civil rights concerns

In addition to the concerns of private universities, state officials also are concerned that the program would affect graduate business offerings at historically black colleges and universities. None of Maryland's four such institutions has formally protested the new program, but state higher education officials say they are concerned that the joint program would conflict with Maryland's agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights, in which the state promised to help encourage students to attend historically black colleges.

In a letter to university system officials, state Higher Education Secretary Calvin W. Burnett wrote that the program is "broadly similar in overarching purpose, curriculum content and expectations of the graduates to the MBA programs at geographically proximate [historically black colleges], both Bowie State University and Morgan State University."

Bowie and Morgan have small programs. The institutions combined had fewer than 30 graduates in 2003, according to state officials. Morgan officials said they have no immediate plans to oppose the UB/Towson program. Bowie officials did not return calls for comment.

Burnett said he is concerned that the proposed MBA program would draw students away from historically black universities. "We have to ask if it continues Maryland's tradition of segregation in higher education," said Burnett, a former president of Coppin State University.

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