Sensible scholarship program High-tech shortage: State technology grants needed to ease work-force crisis.

March 07, 1998

MARYLAND legislators should support Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed science and technology scholarship program because it has a targeted purpose that is not merely altruistic: the cultivation of a qualified work force so high-tech companies will not move out of state in search of employees.

The lack of such workers is a serious problem for Maryland companies.

At a recent hearing before state lawmakers in Annapolis, business leaders said some 20,000 well-paying, high-tech jobs are vacant because so few college students are pursuing engineering, science and computer degrees. Northrop Grumman Corp. officials in Linthicum said they could hired up to 300 workers within two days if qualified candidates were available.

The decline in students majoring in these fields began in the 1980s, intensified during the early '90s, when high-tech companies laid off significant numbers of people, and has not rebounded with the economy. Maryland cannot expect to keep major employers for long unless this trend changes.

The governor's program would offer $3,000 a year to high school graduates who have at least a B average to study a technology-related field at a four-year college; community college grants would be worth $1,000. The money ought to prove an effective incentive, mostly to students headed to in-state public colleges and universities; $3,000 covers the bulk of tuition at most of our state institutions.

Some lawmakers have wondered whether these scholarships shouldn't be tied to financial need, but the purpose is not to help the needy; other state scholarship programs exist to address that issue, although they unfortunately remain underfunded. The purpose is to encourage bright students to take up jobs that Maryland badly needs filled. Thus the aid rightly would come with a price: Students would have to work in Maryland after graduation, a year for every year of the scholarship.

Though the science and technology scholarship proposal has been called a scaled-down version of last year's Glendening plan to give free college tuition to all B-average high school students, regardless of need, it is an entirely different animal.

Last year's free-tuition-for-all plan from the governor was a cost-prohibitive entitlement that would have made government, not students and parents, responsible for financing education. Because of the breadth of its constituency, such a program would be virtually impossible to end.

This year's scholarship plan, in contrast, would cost about $10 million a year, and could and should end if one day the reason for it -- a dearth of high-tech workers -- no longer exists.

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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