Scholarships supply high-tech incentive Enticement: The state is hoping new scholarships will lure college students into high-technology fields -- and encourage them to work in Maryland.

June 16, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

With high-technology workers in demand these days, college graduates like Carroll S. Little Jr. find themselves in a job-seeker's paradise.

A month after picking up his bachelor's degree in computer science from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the 22-year-old from Olney is headed to Arizona to work for Motorola Corp. as an analyst. Starting salary: $41,000.

"I was surprised," Little said, at how many companies wooed him -- six -- and how eager they were to pay so much for someone fresh out of school. A Maryland company offered him the most -- $45,000 -- but Little opted for Motorola because it would bring "high visibility."

In hopes of training -- and keeping -- such valuable workers for Maryland's own booming high-tech industry, the state is launching a new scholarship program. Its aim is to double enrollments in engineering and computer-related fields at state colleges and universities.

"We are trying to entice young people into this as a career," explained Patricia S. Florestano, state secretary of higher education. "These are not easy programs. Sometimes you need a little incentive."

Starting next year, the Science and Technology Scholarship would offer Maryland high school graduates with a 'B' average $3,000 annually to study engineering, computer science or information technology. Students majoring in related fields at two-year community colleges could get $1,000 annual awards.

Recipients would have to agree to work in Maryland for as many years as they received financial aid, or else repay the grants.

"We shouldn't be training people to go to California," Florestano said.

The scholarship would cover three-fourths of the $4,000-a-year average in-state tuition for Maryland's public colleges. For community college students, about half of their average $2,000 tuition bill would be paid.

The Maryland service requirement may deter some from applying. But the scholarship is already turning the heads of some high school students who know about it. Justin Brown is one. The rising senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute is wavering between two careers: electrical engineering or public relations. If he settles on engineering, Justin said he's planning to apply to three universities out-of-state and two in Maryland: Morgan State and College Park.

While he'd like to go to college in another state, Justin said, "probably with the scholarship, Morgan or College Park would be No. 1 ."

The science and technology scholarship program aims to boost the number of Maryland college students majoring in engineering or computer fields from 2,200 to 4,300 by 2003. If successful, it could cost taxpayers nearly $10 million a year by then.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed the science and technology tuition grants a year after the General Assembly refused to back a more sweeping -- and far more costly -- proposal to give "HOPE" scholarships to students from low- or middle-income families who attend college in Maryland. That was pared down to target technical careers for which the state has a pressing need, Florestano said.

Up to 20,000 information technology jobs are going begging in the Baltimore-Washington area, by some estimates.

"It's a nationwide issue, not just local," said Kathy Manning, chief operating officer for the Maryland High-Technology Council, which represents 650 private companies, federal government laboratories and educational institutions. A study earlier this year estimated there were nearly 350,000 computer-related vacancies nationwide.

"We are always constantly looking for IT (information technology) people -- entry level, experienced, you name it," said Thomas Mitchell, human resources director for Tracor Systems Technology Inc., a large engineering firm with about 3,000 employees in the Washington area. At any one time, Mitchell estimates, the firm's local office has 30 openings.

Despite the demand, Maryland's colleges have been producing fewer graduates trained in these fields.

The number of bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded by state schools declined from 950 in 1992 to 871 in 1996, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Computer science bachelors' degrees have fluctuated between 700 and 750.

Students are not flocking into computer science "because it's hard," said Freeman A.Hrabowski, president at UMBC, which produces more degrees in the field than any other Maryland school. But he contended college students also shy away from technical majors because they get poor math and science preparation in secondary school.

Engineering schools also saw fewer students in the early 1990s, a result of economic disruptions and shrinkage of the aerospace industry.

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