U-Md. can't offer online program available at Morgan State

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 2009; 4:01 PM

In an unusual ruling this week, a Maryland commission has barred a state university from offering an online degree program because it would compete with an existing classroom-basedoffering from a historically black institution.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission ruled Wednesday that a proposed online doctoral program at the University of Maryland University College would be "unreasonably duplicative of, and demonstrably harmful to," a similar program already offered at Morgan State University, a historically black institution in Baltimore.

Colleges aren't generally hindered from offering competing programs. But Morgan State is protected by state regulatory language that calls for "appropriate steps" to preserve the "institutional competitiveness" of programs at historically black colleges.

The ruling is also notable, state officials say, as one of the first cases of a Maryland college being blocked from creating an online program that would compete with an existing classroom-based program. Online education commands a growing share of the higher education market, because of potential cost savings and convenience.

UMUC, part of the Maryland state university system, offers 117 degrees and certificates online out of a total of more than 130. Based in Adelphi, the program serves 86,000 students in-person and online at 150 locations worldwide.

The school requested state approval to offer a doctorate of management in community college leadership. Morgan State objected late last year, saying the program would pose a competitive threat to its own community college leadership program.

Maryland's higher education commission approved the online program, but only for out-of-state students. That put the commission in the odd position, noted by the online journal InsideHigherEd, of barring a state university from serving its own residents.

Susan Aldridge, president of UMUC, said in a statement that the decision "prevents many taxpayers in Maryland from earning an important degree from a state university."

Aldridge said the program was designed to meet growing demand for community college leaders. She cited a national survey of 400 community college presidents, showing that 84 percent expected to retire within seven years.

Maryland higher education Secretary James Lyons, Sr., rejected the program for Maryland residents, stating in a Sept. 21 letter, "I am convinced that approving a competing program would harm Morgan's efforts to develop a more diverse student body."

Morgan State is the only Maryland institution offering the program in community college leadership. The program has attracted applicants of all socioeconomic backgrounds, becoming one of the school's most integrated programs. There are 69 students in the program, more than half of whom are white.

UMUC appealed the secretary's decision to the commission. On Wednesday, commission Chair Kevin O'Keefe announced that a majority of the group concurred with Lyons. Commissioners also ruled that Morgan State should develop an online program for Marylanders by fall 2011 if it is "willing and able." If it doesn't do so, another university can.

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