The Maryland State Board for Higher Education last week bestowed degree-granting status on the Columbia Cultural Institute, a small arts school in Columbia that concentrates on teaching ceramics.

Until last year, the school was the Visual Arts Center of Antioch University's Columbia branch, which Antioch closed after seven years of operation. It then was taken over by the Columbia Cultural Institute, a nonprofit corporation founded by former Antioch administrator Edward A. Tulis.

Students who enrolled while the school was run by Antioch were eligible to receive Antioch degrees, but until last week those who enrolled later risked graduating without a degree.

The institute accepts students who have completed two years of undergraduate work at other colleges for its two-year bachelor of arts and bachelor of fine arts degree programs.

It also offers a two-year master of fine arts in ceramics program -- the country's largest, according to Tulis. It also conducts nondegree art programs, mainly for residents of the Columbia area.

Last year, the school had an enrollment of 60 degree students and 100 nondegree students, taught by a faculty of 12.

Almost all of the instructors, however, worked part time for the institute, Tulis said. Since Antioch left, "it's been really rough," he said. "Faculty have forgone salary and spent time making pots and selling them while at the same time they're helping public schools in their arts programs."

Yvonne Lefean, the school's dean, said "it was very difficult to recruit when we couldn't say we could complete degrees. We were very fortunate our students didn't leave us."

She predicted larger enrollments now, which will help the school's finances. The faculty already has been increased to 20.

Tulis, who describes himself as an "educational entrepreneur," said the institute will seek certificiation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

He said he hopes to celebrate the school's new status by changing its name to include the word "college." He said he would like to name it Columbia College but is worried that similarly named colleges and universities may object.