A state panel is expected to tell Gov. William Donald Schaefer Monday to stop frittering away higher education money all over the state and concentrate it where many agree that dollars will lead to national prestige and quality instruction.
Specifically, the Maryland Higher Education Commission says the University of Maryland at College Park is too bruised to take any more budget cuts, and it should be "held harmless" in the next round.
The enhancement of College Park is a key goal of the 1988 legislation establishing the 11-campus state university system, but deep budget cuts have left the campus rationing paper and struggling to hang on to star faculty.
Second, the commission says the University of Maryland System Board of Regents should reconsider its now-dead plan to merge two Baltimore campuses -- not to save money necessarily, but to create an enhanced public research university in Baltimore specializing in the life sciences and health.
Third, the commission itself plans to ask a group of citizens to look into whether the same strengthened offerings wouldn't result from a merger of two more Baltimore campuses -- Coppin State College and Morgan State University.
Finally, the commission wants the governor and General Assembly to set aside $50 million a year in state higher education money to spend on programs intended to meet the most pressing state needs.
"What we are saying is that we are not going to have unlimited re
sources, and we should fund those priorities established by the governor and General Assembly," said Shaila Aery, secretary for higher education and chief executive to the commission.
The proposals are being added to a state higher education plan approved in December and to be reconsidered Monday. The plan is expected to serve as a blueprint for the governor and legislature, and it hinges on distinctive missions for each public campus. In another new recommendation, the commission is asking the regents to think about giving Towson State University the statewide role of improving the quality of elementary and secondary education and collegiate undergraduate education because of its reputation for educating teachers.
The price tag for improvements proposed by state colleges and universities, as well as other mandated higher education initiatives, is $550 million more than is needed to maintain the status quo for the next five years, Dr. Aery said.
State officials agree Maryland faces major budget deficits over the next few years.
As a result, Dr. Aery said, the $70 million taken from public university budgets this year should not be put back the way it was taken out when the state revenue picture improves. Instead, she said the state should make "targeted investment in areas important to the state, such as College Park.
"We have not even begun to help College Park be the flagship," the secretary said.
Enhancing College Park, strengthening educational offerings in Baltimore and beefing up historically black campuses such as Coppin and Morgan are spelled out as priorities in the 1988 law that created the state university system.
But a severe budget crunch has put higher education funding in Maryland back where it was in 1987 and resurrected complaints that piecemeal funding of improvement plans would lead to mediocrity.
The commission's plans are bound to be controversial.
In the past two years, the regents have opted for across-the-board budget cuts in the university system, a move supported by the majority of campus presidents but which translates into slower improvements at each campus.
Also, the regents are not likely to jump at the idea of a merger of the University of Maryland professional schools -- law, medicine, dentistry, social work, nursing, and pharmacy -- with the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus.
Talk of such a merger proved disastrous to the university governing board in 1988, forcing the resignation of its first chairman, Peter O'Malley, and causing a president-elect of the Baltimore professional schools to refuse the job. The regents then sought the advice of a consultant, and in December 1989 voted unanimously against a merger.
Of Coppin and Morgan, Dr. Aery said a merger could strengthen educational offerings at two institutions now competing for resources to educate similar student groups. A merger would require legislation since Morgan is independent of the state university system.