Baltimore needs electrical engineers

Higher education rift: There's no good reason why UMBC shouldn't have a major in this hot field.

June 25, 2000

THERE's a shortage of electrical engineers in many Maryland companies. Economic development efforts are hurt because this state's public universities don't produce enough graduates in this field to meet the demand.

And yet the state's top education leaders refuse to let the University of Maryland, Baltimore County add an undergraduate major in electrical engineering. The fear is that such a UMBC major would hurt Morgan State University's engineering department.

Federal civil rights officials have pressured the Maryland Higher Education Commission to preserve Morgan's monopoly. They maintain this exclusivity will draw more white students to the solidly (98 percent) black campus.

That strategy hasn't worked over the past 15 years, and federal officials ought to admit it.

What Morgan lacks are the types of superlative programs that attract the best and brightest students of all races.

It needs, for instance, programs comparable to UMBC's nationally acclaimed Meyerhoff Scholars, which has drawn high-achieving minorities to the campus. That's where state and federal officials should be focusing their attention.

Allowing Morgan to retain the lone undergraduate electrical engineering program at a Baltimore-area public university isn't the answer.

First, Morgan only graduates about 100 electrical engineers a year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a need for 480 electrical engineers in Maryland per year. There's plenty of room for a second program elsewhere.

Second, UMBC already has a high-powered graduate electrical engineering program. Yet it is the only university in the country that doesn't have a complementary undergraduate component.

Third, if government officials are concerned about integrating public universities, UMBC, not Morgan, ought to be the model. It has a far higher retention rate of minority students and a far higher graduation rate.

If state officials want to avoid overlap and duplication, as they claim, why not limit UMBC's undergraduate program to specialized electrical engineering areas where it already excels?

Let UMBC's students focus on gaining expertise in photonics, optical communications and image processing for biomedical communications. Morgan would still have the Baltimore-area franchise for all other electrical engineering students.

Such a compromise would best serve the students of this region, regardless of their color. That ought to be the overriding objective, a fact that state and federal officials seem to have overlooked.

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