Regents OK UMBC major in electrical engineering

But state commission may reject plan, noting claims of duplication

July 08, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland approved an electrical engineering program for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County yesterday, although it appears unlikely the program will get the permission it needs from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

"I think it's needed," Donald L. Langenberg, chancellor of the system, said of UMBC's proposed program. "The demand is clear. We hear that continuously from the business community and students."

In an all-day meeting at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, the regents also approved a 10-year strategic plan required by state legislation that predicts tremendous growth in the state's higher education needs over the next decade.

UMBC's proposed undergraduate major in electrical engineering - the school already has graduate programs in the subject - has drawn objections from officials at Morgan State University who say it would duplicate a program there and harm that institution. After meeting with representatives from UMBC and Morgan State last week, MHEC officials told UMBC that they tentatively agreed with Morgan State's position.

But, according to MHEC spokesman Jeff Welsh, the commission will hire a consultant from outside the state to determine whether there is enough demand to warrant a new electrical engineering program.

"The Board of Regents and MHEC have two sets of standards for judging programs," said Charles Middleton, the system's top academic officer. "The board looks at if a program is compatible with the institution's mission and can be done within existing resources. This [UMBC electrical engineering] program meets those requirements.

"MHEC looks at if it would harm any other institution, and the civil rights aspects. That's not our job," he said.

The proposed major has become an issue in an assessment of the desegregation of the state's colleges and universities by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

Federal officials have told the state that historically black schools such as Morgan State cannot be harmed by duplicating their programs at nearby traditionally white schools. State officials have a meeting scheduled Thursday with the civil rights representatives.

The strategic plan approved yesterday is, according to Langenberg, designed to make the state realize the type of challenges it will face in higher education over the next 10 years.

"It is meant to be aspirational and ambitious," he said.

One objective will be to increase the proportion of Maryland adults holding baccalaureate degrees from 32 percent to 40 percent, which would mean about 400,000 new workers in the state with baccalaureate degrees.

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