Facing Reality in Higher Education

November 10, 1992

Through round after round of brutal budget cuts, totaling $123 million over the last three years, the University of Maryland Board of Regents and Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg did their best to spread the pain evenly. That seemed fair, but it was wrong.

In trying to avoid picking winners and losers, the board and chancellor were making losers of every campus and every program. Now, they are belatedly realizing that the budget problems are long-term and structural, and the response must be long-term and structural as well.

Among the changes being considered by Dr. Langenberg are the merger of the law schools at the University of Maryland at Baltimore and the University of Baltimore, the privatization of some graduate programs, consolidation of nursing programs and conversion of Coppin State College from a four-year to a two-year institution.

Making such dramatic changes will be difficult politically. Each campus and each program has its own constituency, and a small but passionate interest group can often block action. Given that a package of re-structuring changes is likely to result, a coalition of opposing interests can be expected. But if the state is to maintain programs of reasonable quality at reasonable cost, it will have to eliminate some high-cost or low-enrollment programs. It will have to change the nature of some campuses. It may even need to close a campus.

Administrative changes can save some money, eliminating a few deans or presidents. But the Maryland Higher Education Commission projects a $540 million gap by fiscal 1998 between available state resources and the amount of money it will take to run state colleges as they have been run. The state cannot afford to keep all it has. And it cannot afford more across-the-board cuts which will preserve most programs but leave them operating with resources so meager that both students and parents feel cheated.

The chancellor and regents should move ahead, consulting everyone involved but, in the end, making tough choices. And the governor and legislature will need to get beyond some anguished cries to find a structure which, given the available resources, produces quality education without exorbitant tuition.

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