The nation's largest for-profit university moved a step closer yesterday to setting up shop in Maryland, as a state higher education panel urged that the Arizona-based University of Phoenix be allowed to open three "campuses" in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.
A committee of the state Higher Education Commission recommended that Phoenix be permitted to offer business and computer degree programs in Maryland, provided that local libraries agree to give its students access to online research materials.
Phoenix's entry into Maryland would pose a challenge to the state's colleges and universities, many of which have expanded into career-oriented adult education and "distance learning" by computer or video.
Phoenix still must get the approval of the full Higher Education Commission, which meets next month. That now seems likely.
Representatives of Maryland's public and private colleges and universities had written the committee that Phoenix's academic program overlaps "extensively" with their business and computer degree programs.
Phoenix spokesmen said their school fills an unmet demand for career training geared primarily toward working adults. The commission's staff agreed, saying there was no "unreasonable duplication" between the new and existing course offerings.
"There was a time when the commission would have been more protective of existing institutions," said Patricia S. Florestano, secretary of higher education.
"Between the Internet and the market, institutions have to compete," she said.
If the Higher Education Commission approves, Phoenix hopes to begin offering business and information science courses by fall or early next year, said Charles M. Seigel, the school's vice president of national affairs.
Phoenix intends to rent office space in Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties, but Seigel said it was too early to say which would open first.
About 42,000 students attend the university, by going to classes or by long-distance computer hookup. The school has facilities in 13 states, mainly in the West, but hopes to expand into the mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast.
To operate in Maryland, Phoenix needs waivers from state regulations requiring that at least a third of its courses be taught by full-time faculty members and that it maintain a library at each campus.
The school relies mainly on "adjunct" instructors who are employed full time practicing the disciplines they teach.
Students conduct research through an "online library" or by calling a toll-free telephone number, but university officials said they also plan to establish links with community libraries.
The head of one faculty group seemed resigned to the change. "The bottom line is, 'Are we serving the citizens of the state?' " said James Alexander, chairman of the state faculty advisory council.
Spokesmen for several institutions expressed confidence that they could compete, noting their lower tuitions or more varied educational opportunities.
Tuition for full-time students at the University of Phoenix averages $6,300 a year, about $2,000 more than what is charged by the University of Baltimore, for example, or by the University of Maryland University College.
Pub Date: 3/04/98