A headline yesterday incorrectly implied that a Rockville trade school, General Communications, would close if state officials approve the creation of a proposed Potomac College. The trade school would remain open. (Published 2/13/91)

The commission that oversees higher education in Maryland is scheduled today to begin evaluating a proposal to create in Montgomery County the state's first new college since 1978.

Victor Berlin, vice president of General Communications, a 10-year-old trade school in Rockville offering specialized business classes, said he proposed the new school, called Potomac College, to offer Montgomery's education-minded adults another source of higher learning.

Berlin, whose trade school does not award degrees, said yesterday he has worked for about two years to develop the idea with help from Robert E. Shoenberg, an education consultant and former president of the county's Board of Education.

Under Berlin's proposal, Potomac College would offer the equivalent of a junior and senior year of college, while allowing students to compress or extend their course work. It also would emphasize internships to help groom students for jobs and help meet the growing demands of adults for more education, Berlin said.

While it is uncertain whether Potomac College will ever set up shop, some educators and business leaders said yesterday it has a good chance of being established.

Shaila Aery, the state Cabinet official who oversees higher education in Maryland, said Berlin's initial plans were good. Aery added that she could not predict whether the Maryland Higher Education Commission will approve the creation of a new college.

The commission began to solicit reactions to Berlin's proposal from educators across the state last week, and is expected to make a final decision this spring.

In granting permission for colleges to open in Maryland, the commission is charged with considering whether the state needs new academic programs and whether the college would be academically sound and financially secure.

In a recent analysis of whether Montgomery needs such a college, Aery noted that several groups have called for another college in the county that would offer bachelor's degrees. She also noted that county employers want more business and computer courses, the two programs that Berlin said Potomac College would offer.

At the same time, the Potomac College proposal has stirred questions among local educators and business leaders about its standards, the diversity of its student body and the competition it might create with existing local colleges.

"Our concern is with the quality," said Walter Plosilla, president of the Montgomery County High Technology Council, which favors more higher education in the county. Plosilla said Berlin is proposing "a different kind of college than most of us are experienced with."

Jon A. Gerson, the county government's economic development director, said, "I can't imagine, especially in this fiscal environment, how it would be prudent to start another institution."

Shoenberg, Berlin's adviser, said the demand in Montgomery for a nontraditional institution such as Potomac College was strong. "It really responds to the needs of adult learners," Shoenberg said.

If it opens, Potomac College would become the first private college created in Maryland since 1978, according to the higher education commission. It is the first free-standing college proposed in several years, although the state has acquired many trade schools and satellite campuses of colleges based in other states.