ANNAPOLIS, JUNE 21 -- A new blueprint for Maryland higher education recommends that the state's public colleges and universities abolish undergraduate education majors to attract more and better students into teaching.
The blueprint, released today by Maryland Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery, calls for all prospective teachers to earn liberal arts degrees. They would concentrate on professional courses in a fifth year of college, with coaching from education professors who would be stationed in public schools.
The proposal reflects recent ideas nationally about ways to strengthen the teaching profession and improve public education. So far, they have been praised widely but adopted by few universities and virtually no states.
The recommendation on education majors may prove to be the most controversial of dozens of proposals that Aery has written into a 16-page document that covers virtually all facets of higher education around the state. The Maryland Higher Education Commission will review and vote on the recommendations in the next few months.
The blueprint recommends fundamental changes in what undergraduates should be expected to know, how professors are rated, how state aid is allotted, how much colleges charge students, and which courses are available at different campuses.
Aery also is urging the state to create a telecommunications network that would offer high school, college, and graduate-level classes in work places and in remote parts of the state. She is proposing new scholarships and loans that would help undergraduates who volunteer in public schools and those who go into technical and scientific jobs.
And she is recommending that colleges be held more accountable to the state -- financially and academically.
The document distills Aery's thinking after 15 months as the state's first higher education secretary, a cabinet-level job overseeing a large network of public and private colleges and universities.
"We've really thought long and hard about it, and we've finally gotten to the beef," Aery said in an interview this afternoon.
She predicted that many of her recommendations would prove divisive, and noted that several would require the approval of the General Assembly.
The debate is expected to begin Wednesday, when Aery is to present the blueprint formally to members of the Maryland Higher Education Commission. She said that she would like the commission to consider her proposals over the summer, hold public hearings, and adopt them in September.
The blueprint also meets the General Assembly's request for a new higher education plan for the state to replace one that was adopted in 1986. The directive was part of a 1988 law that created a new University of Maryland system and formed the higher education commission to oversee the university's 11 branches, along with dozens of community colleges, private colleges and trade schools.
In recommending the changes in teacher training, Aery said she believes that prospective teachers need some technical courses, such as instruction in child psychology and in giving and analyzing tests. But, she said, "I don't think there are four years' worth."
She said a variety of studies has indicated that liberal arts education would produce better teachers and ones who could more easily transfer into and out of the profession.
Aery said she had not yet discussed her ideas with professors or deans of the state's education schools, the largest of which are at the University of Maryland at College Park and Towson State University.
She said she also expected some opposition to her proposal for state guidelines about what students should have learned by the end of sophomore year. Currently, she said, "We know how many hours it takes to do a bachelor's degree, but . . . the quality of undergraduate education is fairly inconsistent across the state."
At the same time, Aery is proposing that the commission review the programs available at each campus, eliminating ones that are inconsistent with the academic specialities authorized by the state.
And she is recommending that, in evaluating and rewarding faculty members, public campuses stress teaching and community service while de-emphasizing research.
Several of the initiatives are designed to make college more affordable. Traditionally, tuition at Maryland's public universities has been comparatively high.
Aery proposes, for instance, that community colleges keep prices down -- if necessary through increased aid to schools in poorer counties. She suggests there should be a bigger difference in price between College Park, the state's main research campus, and smaller schools that primarily teach undergraduates.
And she is proposing that private colleges would have to give tuition breaks to students from Maryland, in order to keep qualifying for direct subsidies from the state.