Universities pitch plan to produce technology talent Hopkins', UM campuses' goal is graduates

November 12, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

In an effort to expand the pool of home-grown talent for cutting-edge employers, four universities are proposing an ambitious plan to double the number of Maryland college graduates who specialize in information technology within five years.

The plan -- called the Maryland Applied Information Technology Initiative -- will be presented today to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The panel will be asked to endorse a request to the governor to budget $2 million to get the program started next year. If the universities win full approval of their plan, the budget would eventually increase to $40 million a year in public and private funds.

MAITI -- pronounced "mighty" by its authors -- is a joint proposal of the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and the Johns Hopkins University. It seeks to address a problem Maryland business leaders have identified as a serious impediment to growth: a shortage of qualified information technology professionals.

The goal is to produce hundreds of additional graduates in such fields as computer science and electrical engineering by expanding university programs, forming alliances with business and stepping up recruitment in Maryland and out of state.

The plan has strong support at the highest levels of the University of Maryland System, but the preliminary response from the commission has been cool.

The commission's staff recommended that the initiative not be approved, calling it "premature," and its finance policy committee decided to refer the proposal to the full commission without a recommendation.

The staff's position prompted College Park President William E. Kirwan to fire off a memo to commissioners defending the initiative as "long overdue."

A top aide to Gov. Parris N. Glendening suggested in an interview that the administration may not be ready to embrace the proposal. Major F. Riddick Jr., Glendening's chief of staff, noted that the governor is about to appoint a commission to study information technology issues.

"It might not be the right year for the appropriation side of this, but the concept is good," said Riddick, Glendening's top adviser on technology issues.

The proposal could also face criticism from some of the institutions that would be denied a place in MAITI's governing structure -- including the University of Baltimore and Towson University.

Proponents are determined to press their case today.

Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, described the initiative as "a big, big deal."

"I don't know of anything else like it in the country, and I would say it's a major asset to the further development of the information technology industry in this part of the country," Langenberg said.

June E. Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, an affiliate of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said the skills of the work force are a critical factor in attracting and retaining business.

"If we don't have a work force that meets the needs of business, companies will move to states that can meet their needs," she said.

Streckfus noted that a recent survey found that among companies that hire highly skilled workers, 79 percent reported some difficulty in finding qualified employees.

Under the MAITI proposal, the universities would address the problem in a variety of ways. They would expand their own information technology-related programs, involve business leaders in curriculum design, promote applied research in cooperation with Maryland companies and offer continuing technological education for their employees.

In addition, MAITI would develop programs to help K-12 teachers learn to use information technology in the classroom. Its goal is to train all Maryland teachers in basic information technology by 2003.

Under the proposal, MAITI would start with a $4 million budget for fiscal 1999, which begins July 1, with half of the money coming from the state and half from university, federal and private source.

Its budget would increase to $10 million in fiscal 2000, with $4 million from the state, and eventually grow to $40 million a year, $10 million of it from taxpayers.

Kirwan said the four original participants hope the program will eventually expand to include all of Maryland's higher education institutions.

But the details of how MAITI would be administered could raise hackles at other campuses and in state government. The proposal calls for the consortium to be run by a board appointed by the presidents of the four founding universities -- with no role for the governor, the General Assembly or other colleges.

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