Panel Urges More Funds For U-Md.
By Desson Howe
A Maryland governor's task force will recommend that the state give an extra $22 million to the University of Maryland at College Park over the next two years and guarantee at least $5,000 in funds per student to each of the University of Maryland system's 13 campuses.
In a report to be delivered to Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) next month, the panel will urge the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the University System of Maryland to create a statewide funding strategy for higher education that will help College Park realize its intended status as flagship and set mandatory minimum funding levels for the system's colleges and universities, which saw state funding stagnate during the recession of the early 1990s.
The funding guarantees will "give university presidents a built-in, reliable component to their budgets . . . so they can project what [programs] they can take care of," said Del. Nancy K. Kopp (D-Montgomery), the task force co-chairman.
The task force's recommendations recognize College Park's need for additional funds to compete for staff and students with top-ranked public universities elsewhere.
When the University System of Maryland was created in 1988, lawmakers called for an increase of $20 million a year for College Park from 1990 to 1995 to put it on par with top public universities in California, North Carolina, Michigan and Illinois.
But those funds never materialized, hurting College Park's quest to live up to its designated status as flagship of the system, faculty and administrators complained.
If accepted by Glendening and the General Assembly, the task force's recommendations could lead to guaranteed funding for Maryland's higher education institutions, which are now discretionary items in the state budget and therefore subject to cuts.
The panel also will recommend easing controls over the state's public university presidents by the University System of Maryland and Maryland Higher Education Commission to give them more freedom to create new programs.
"Overall, this is a very positive outcome for College Park," said College Park provost Gregory L. Geoffroy. "It's a commitment by the task force to keep College Park as the top priority, to increase its funding base, to elevate its stature and to give it more autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic procedures and regulations."
The task force, made up of legislators, educators and community and business leaders, is finalizing its recommendations after four months of public hearings, site visits and public work sessions to assess the governance and structure of the 10-year-old University System of Maryland.
As expected, the task force members including system Chairman Lance Billingsley and Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore) and Kopp, legislators who helped create the system did not recommend dismantling the system. But they proposed fine-tuning it to make it more responsive to member institutions and the needs of students and employers.
The system needs to become "a facilitator not a dictator," said Hoffman, who urged an "attitude shift" among system leaders who sometimes have "tin ears" when listening to members' concerns.
Task force members largely agreed that the system with its ability to consolidate and manage resources among the vastly different schools and institutions was the right organization to meet the state's higher education needs.
"There's an adage that, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Rawlings said. "But there's a complementary adage, that tinkering is always permissible."
College Park, which received about $288 million this year from the state legislature, has lobbied lawmakers for more funds and a greater voice in the system, which includes smaller institutions such as Salisbury State, Bowie State and Towson universities.
The task force had clearly responded favorably to a letter presented Tuesday by College Park President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr., said Brian Darmody, assistant to the president. That letter sought a funding increase of $9 million next year and $13 million the year after that, as well as greater freedom for the college presidents.
The funding mandate if passed by the legislature would be a "significant boost, even though this is a decade later," Darmody said. But, he added, the recommendations still await the governor's and legislature's judgment.
"I'm cautiously optimistic. This is a very long march."
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