The Maryland Higher Education Commission completed nearly two years of work yesterday, accepting a draft master plan designed to streamline and improve the quality of education offered by the state's colleges, universities, and community colleges.
The plan incorporates recommendations that already have begun to change the way public institutions respond to students' needs.
Ultimately, state officials say, the plan can be expected to reshape higher education in these significant ways, among others:
* State tax dollars would be given on the basis of the quality of programs and whether they match a school's mission, rather than on the basis of how many students they enroll, as in the past.
* Scholarships would be given out to a greater extent on the basis of need, and -- depending on changes to state law -- not on the basis of political patronage.
* Within the next three years, students and parents would have access to information about each public campus' success rate to help them make better-informed decisions when choosing a public college.
"We've only just started," said Shaila R. Aery, Maryland's secretary of higher education and a pivotal figure in developing the plan.
The culmination of a hundred hours of discussions, the plan attempts to clarify separate roles for each campus in the system. Its many recommendations are backed by its authority to recommend budgets for the colleges and its powers of persuasion buttressed by the data it has accumulated.
The proposals range from changes in the way teachers would be trained to revisions in the awarding of tenure on various campuses.
Sections of the plan, including a revamped state scholarship program, have been approved separately during the past year by the 12-member commission, which is charged by the governor with setting statewide policy based on the needs of both students and taxpayers.
Since arriving in Maryland nearly two years ago, Dr. Aery has been questioning long-held assumptions of the state's college administrators.
Instead of political battles over which campuses get which new academic programs, educators now find themselves responding to questions about how well they are educating students, how they are spending state money and whether they are responsive to the taxpayers.
The secretary said a survey of more than 270 major Maryland businesses found that many did not believe public universities were responsive to their needs.
In the past, education debate has assumed the desirability of growth and new money. Now, Dr. Aery said in an interview, excellence must be achieved by targeting programs and redistributing money already available.
Some of the plan's recommendations must be approved by the General Assembly. A final draft is expected to be sent to Gov. William Donald Schaefer in January.
Not resolved in the plan are some key issues:
* The distinct roles of a half-dozen public colleges and universities in Baltimore and how they should best meet the region's needs.
* The mission of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, which bills itself as a research institution but has admission standards more akin to those of community colleges. In recent years, the campus has awarded fewer than 10 doctorates. The average college entrance score of its students is below 800 points on a scale of 1,600 while many other schools that are not research institutions have incoming classes averaging 1,000 or more.
* The future of University College, an evening college chiefly basedat College Park but with other locations. It gets little state aid, and its tuition is higher than that for other parts of the 11-campus University of Maryland System. State officials have also complained that it does not offer the kinds of programs needed in Baltimore.
Among yesterday's recommendations were that the regents of the University of Maryland System give the University of Maryland College Park campus authority over continuing education, a change that would allow it to offer its graduate and professional degree programs with tenured faculty throughout the state, possibly employing new communications technology.
But such a change -- as well as change proposed in the role of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore -- is being challenged by the board of regents that governs the University of Maryland System.
Broadly, the goals of the state plan completed yesterday are three: to ensure quality education; to ensure affordability and a choice for students; and accountability in the use of state money.
The plan spells out the missions of 17 community colleges as well as 13 other public campuses and calls for better communication between these sectors. The institutions are to be evaluated and budgets recommended for them based on how well they carry out their various activities. It calls for contracting with private colleges where educational needs are not being met.