State largess to private colleges

The Education Beat

Aid: The 14 eligible independent schools get more than $1,300 a student, but they give much more back to Maryland than they take.

January 31, 2001|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE MARYLAND Independent College and University Association celebrates its 30th anniversary today, and it's appropriate that ceremonies will revolve around the General Assembly and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who is scheduled to play host to an evening reception at Government House.

It is the governor and legislators, after all, who have blessed private colleges in Maryland with one of the most generous public aid plans in the nation. The 14 eligible colleges (of 18 MICUA members) get more than $1,300 per student annually from Maryland taxpayers, and they can spend the money any way they choose.

But it's hardly a foolish giveaway. The independent schools return to Maryland much more -- intellectually and financially -- than they take. The state-aided private colleges and universities enroll 18 percent of all Maryland students but award 24 percent of bachelor's degrees, 48 percent of master's degrees and 38 percent of doctoral degrees -- this in return for 3.5 percent of the state's higher-education dollar.

In addition, they employ 31,000 people with a combined payroll of more than $1.2 billion. Maryland's private colleges have a yearly impact on the state economy of more than $5 billion, five times that of the General Motors plant on Broening Highway.

MICUA is 30 years old, but the public-private partnership dates to the state's first two colleges, St. John's in Annapolis and Washington in Chestertown. In 1784, when the state and the country were new, the plan was that those two would become the University of Maryland; they were chartered by Maryland and regarded as "public." That never happened, but the groundwork was laid for more than two centuries of close cooperation.

When MICUA was founded by a group of like-minded private college folks in 1971, most of its members were considerably weaker than they are now. Two schools had folded, one had been forced to merge, and others were threatened.

"They were perceived increasingly as an endangered species," said Fred Lazarus IV, president of the Maryland Institute, College of Art and chairman of the MICUA board. "MICUA helped to transform this struggling group of educational institutions into a collective force that draws to the region some of the world's brightest minds."

What a diverse group! How much more different, one from the other, are the Johns Hopkins University, St. John's and Washington, Goucher College, Baltimore International College, Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Sojourner-Douglass College, Baltimore Hebrew University and Columbia Union College, to name a few?

More musings, talking pro and con about MSPAP

More sightings from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Williamson Evers, chairman of an independent study highly critical of MSPAP, and Gary Heath, branch chief for arts and sciences at the State Department of Education, duked it out last week on WJHU's "Marc Steiner Show."

It was a draw at high noon. Heath more than held his own, while Evers, on the phone from California, was articulate in his indictment. Both men were polite. Was it a coincidence that, during the noon hour of a school day, three pro-MSPAP callers identified themselves as public school principals? Lunch duty?

Meanwhile, State Department of Education officials reminded me that three independent polls since 1997 have found Marylanders more satisfied with MSPAP than did those responding to the Maryland Poll commissioned recently by The Sun and two other organizations.

A poll conducted by the University of Maryland in 1999 found that two-thirds of Marylanders thought MSPAP was "somewhat useful" or "very useful." The Maryland Poll, released this month, asked 1,200 registered voters across the state if they thought MSPAP "is leading to better public education." Only a quarter answered affirmatively.

"The verdict is still out on [MSPAP's] viability from a public standpoint," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda, which conducted the Maryland Poll.

Maryland might learn from Kentucky, which has a statewide testing program the same age as MSPAP.

Two years ago, the commonwealth revamped the test given since 1993, acting in large part on poll findings.

"We've been tracking public opinion all along," said Carolyn Witt Jones, executive director of Partnership for Kentucky Schools, a business support group. "Our polls now show there's a lot more tolerance and support than there was a few years ago."

Polling found that Kentucky parents wanted to see test items, so each year the state releases a bank of questions from the previous year's test.

And because Kentucky parents wanted to rate their children against kids in other states, officials added so-called "norm-referenced" test questions that allow comparisons.

Maryland was rated first in the nation and Kentucky third in a study of standards and accountability conducted recently by Education Week.

Educator with local ties dies in Massachusetts

Millicent Carey McIntosh, a towering figure in education with close ties to Baltimore, died this month at her home in Tyringham, Mass. She was 102.

Born in Baltimore, McIntosh was the daughter of Quakers who campaigned for racial justice and women's suffrage. She was a niece of M. Carey Thomas, a pioneer in women's education, founder of Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore and president of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

I met "Mrs. Mac" 40 years ago, when she was concluding a distinguished career as president of Barnard College in New York City. Several years ago, well into her 90s, she gave a talk at Bryn Mawr, still lively and a role model not only for women and girls, but for all of us.

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