Coordinating Commission Benefits Md. Higher EducationThe...


June 03, 1995

Coordinating Commission Benefits Md. Higher Education

The role of state coordinating boards in higher eduction is worthy of debate, but James Fisher's fact-free ramblings in The Sun May 8 give argument a bad name.

He is apparently ignorant of what has happened in the state since 1988, when the General Assembly reorganized college and university governance and established the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Mr. Fisher claims that costs have gone up due to state coordination. Actually, MHEC absorbed the responsibilities of three agencies, eliminating duplication and reducing spending on higher education administration by $4 million.

Moreover, MHEC's leadership in setting fiscal priorities for the colleges and universities has not only improved institutional financial planning, but has helped to ensure that the state's limited funds are spent on Maryland's highest priorities.

For fiscal year 1996, institutional spending requests totaling $74 million were trimmed to $23 million before MHEC submitted them to the General Assembly.

Mr. Fisher claims (without documentation) that state coordinating boards have "a leveling effect on quality."

Actually, MHEC has encouraged quality and diversity among Maryland institutions by negotiating detailed mission statements that clarify the unique role of each institution and serve as a baseline for evaluating their budget requests and program proposals.

Mr. Fisher also claims (erroneously) that it can take years to get a new program approved by the coordinating bureaucracy, and that unnecessary and duplicative programs abound at the institutions.

Actually, MHEC is required by statute to act on requests for new programs within 150 days, and unnecessary and duplicative programs have been significantly curtailed by the commission's program productivity reports, which have identified those with low or declining enrollment and degree production rates.

In response to these reports, institutions have already eliminated over 100 programs and inaugurated comprehensive reviews to evaluate others.

Of course, quality is the major responsibility of faculties and governing boards, whom Mr. Fisher implicitly denigrates by his charges.

Nevertheless, MHEC has made important contributions to strengthening the quality of higher education in Maryland, by establishing guidelines for institutions to measure and report on student learning outcomes and by issuing its annual Student Outcome and Achievement Report, which enable high schools throughout the state to evaluate and improve their college preparatory programs.

MHEC has also worked with the State Board of Education to develop long-range plans for reform of teacher education and to establish comprehensive early intervention programs to help at-risk junior and senior high students to obtain the academic preparation they need for college admission.

MHEC's major focus has been on strengthening public policies affecting access to higher education for Maryland citizens.

To this end, it has established fiscal priorities that have tripled state appropriations for student aid and doubled the number of scholarships awarded since 1988.

MHEC proposed and won approval from the General Assembly for the Scholarship Reform Act of 1991, which guarantees access to college for low-income students and provides new assistance for part-time students.

It has also strengthened the merit-based Distinguished Scholar Grants, thereby increasing the number of highly talented Maryland students who attended state institutions by 25 percent.

MHEC has taken the lead in establishing a telecommunications policy for Maryland under which colleges and universities are being linked by a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network.

It has approved a statewide policy for general education core curriculum that will allow students to transfer from one institution to another with a minimum of lost credits. It has also developed a more equitable funding formula for the state's community colleges.

These indicators of strengthened quality and accountability for Maryland higher education would hardly have been possible under Mr. Fisher's proposal to replace MHEC with "a non-funded council of presidents."

Charles B. Saunders Jr.


The writer is vice chairman of the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Bay Resources

Although not a commercial fisherman, I am outraged by Dale P. Dirks' letter of May 27. He seems to feel that recreational

anglers are the only ones who should have access to the resources of the Chesapeake Bay.

Commercial fishing is not an activity for ''the short-term benefit of a few commercial operators." This industry supplies a reasonably priced, low-fat, high-protein food to vast numbers of Marylanders and others to feed their families.

Do these people not have as much right to a natural resource as anyone else? Or is fish to be reserved for the tables of those who can afford to own a boat, or hire a charter boat?

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