An open approach to change in higher learning At the top: Maryland's secretary of higher education discusses tuition, faculty, and the style in which she would like to accomplish objectives.

The Education Beat

November 26, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

EARLY NEXT MONTH, Patricia S. Florestano marks her first half-year as Maryland secretary of higher education, succeeding Shaila R. Aery. Her appointment by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the spring met criticism from those who felt an outsider was needed for the job of overseeing the state's higher education jigsaw puzzle. Dr. Florestano was the classic insider, a former University of Maryland System administrator, lobbyist and professor, and a trusted adviser to the governor.

The new secretary, 59, was interviewed Wednesday in Annapolis. Here are some highlights:

How will your administration differ from Dr. Aery's?

I think my style will be much different. I don't want to criticize my predecessor, but my style will be very open and very cooperative. I think you get a lot more done by getting people to talk with each other than by hitting them over the head. I want to make a clear distinction between the [Maryland Higher Education Commission's] role as a coordinating body and the mission of the various governing boards. I don't want to govern. That's not my role.

I'm an incrementalist by nature. I don't see us making real dramatic changes. I see us making positive changes, but gradually.

Are you worried about the documented shift in financing of higher education from the taxpayer to the tuition payer?

I spent six years lobbying for higher education in Maryland. My philosophy is that I'd rather the state put money in any segment of higher education than in prisons or roads or anything else. When I look back at the history of this state, we've consistently been fifth, sixth or seventh in per capita income or median income among all the states, while we've never been more than 25th or 30th in our support for higher education.

That also means that in my job I'll have to be an advocate for higher education. There hasn't been enough of that from this office in the past.

How do you feel about the state's generous program of aid to private colleges, particularly at a time of tight budgets? And isn't it true that, as private colleges get more state money and public colleges like St. Mary's give up state aid, the distinction between public and private is blurring?

Someone said that there's no longer a public college or a private one; there's a spectrum. I think that's accurate. As for aiding private colleges, I think it's a reasonable public policy. Maryland has a long history of excellent private institutions, and we would have to pick up the cost of educating many of their students if they went out of business. Our aid program also makes us work together.

St. Mary's [which has deliberately reduced state aid in return for independence from state regulations] was ideally situated for that kind of process. It has a brilliant president [Edward T. Lewis], who worked the whole process beautifully. But I think Ted Lewis' model is one you'll see other campuses look at.

Maybe one of the law schools might want to take a similar direction. The key is whether the campus has the capacity to raise tuition. But getting out from under state procurement and personnel regulations is very tempting.

Speaking of tuition, is Maryland getting to the saturation point in raising charges to students?

The governing boards have a real problem. As public money shrinks, especially from federal sources, there is no other place to go. Actually, Maryland is about in the middle of peer states in its level of tuition.

Isn't the situation particularly critical for community colleges?

Yes. The community colleges theoretically have a formula that calls for a third of funding from the local jurisdiction, a third from the state and a third from tuition. But the state's share has been declining; it's now at about 28 percent.

Is faculty productivity still a hot issue?

Since I've been on board, we've hardly heard a word about productivity. The General Assembly asked for a report from the University of Maryland System. It got the report, so it's between the legislature and the campuses at this point.

But we're coming up with a new plan for accountability. We plan to pull together all of the various things that fall under the general heading and report to the legislature every year. It'll be a comprehensive report with more than 100 indicators, not just faculty workload.

Should the state have a public university in Baltimore the equal of College Park?

The Sun's longtime editorial campaign for a similar kind of operation in Baltimore is unrealistic, in my view. But I also think The Sun underestimates the quality of the institutions in Baltimore. In the metropolitan area you have a diverse, strong group of public institutions. I'm always getting complaints from Montgomery County, which is one of the fastest-growing and richest subdivisions in Maryland, but which doesn't have its own senior institution of higher education. Baltimore has much more to offer in terms of diversity and quality.

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