Sound investment, guaranteed return

Universities: The governor's budget recognizes the crucial link between education and prosperity.

March 18, 2001|By Donald Langenberg

AN ENTIRE generation has grown up since the dead-end days of the mid- and late 1970s, when "stagflation" and "double-digit interest rates" formed a dark cloud over the economy. In those days, people chased jobs like dogs after a tossed stick -- and there weren't enough sticks to go around.

Today, human capital drives the economy, and jobs land at the doorsteps of skilled people. State schools superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says we are entering a world in which there are two types of people -- those who are educated and those who are unemployable. That means there also will be two kinds of states -- those that have strong education systems and highly educated, skilled work forces, and those that are uncompetitive, economic backwaters.

The General Assembly will soon make difficult decisions about the budget. One of those decisions -- the funding levels for the 13 institutions of the University System of Maryland -- will influence the kind of state Maryland will be for the next decade.

Today, Maryland has one of the most successful economies in the nation, as well as one of the most highly educated populations. That is no coincidence. It's that smart, skilled population that is driving our economy. Companies move where they can find educated workers. PricewaterhouseCoopers recently estimated that eight companies that relocated to Baltimore or expanded there in 1999 will have a spinoff impact of $2.8 billion, create 2,300 jobs, and pay about $129 million in taxes over a nine-year period.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed a budget for the University System that recognizes the crucial link between education and prosperity. It invests soundly and efficiently, where a return is guaranteed. That investment will yield college graduates who stay in Maryland, raise families, and hold good, well-paid jobs. In turn, they will grow the tax base that allows us to improve our quality of life while also saving for a rainy day. If this were a deal offered by a stockbroker, Wall Street would line up to buy in.

But other states and other countries are competing fiercely to attract and retain skilled employees. We could soon face labor shortages throughout our economy, but most severely in information technology, education, biotechnology, health care, and human services. Maryland and the University System must remain diligent in retaining and attracting workers for these fields and dozens of others.

The University System already is the major producer of Maryland's professional work force. We serve more than 40,000 working adults each year, and approximately 78 percent of our graduates who work full time choose to remain in-state. In order to sustain those numbers and build on that success, however, the USM institutions must have the resources to grow as the state grows. It's a simple equation -- more graduates equal more jobs filled. We can and must continue to invest in public higher education if we want to ensure Maryland's economic health and vitality.

To continue the Wall Street metaphor, the University System has even developed its own prospectus, a strategic plan for the next decade. "The USM in 2010: Responding to the Challenges that Lie Ahead" analyzes demographic and economic trends and their consequences for Maryland. The plan shows how the USM will help meet Maryland's needs for a highly skilled work force, providing the human capital to fuel the state's prolonged economic growth. Some of the more critical goals of the USM include:

Increasing the number of graduates in high-demand occupations.

Meeting the needs of a work force that requires "lifelong learning."

Recruiting and retaining more students from populations that heretofore have been underrepresented on our campuses.

Expanding significantly to accommodate over 7,000 new students, the so-called "baby boom" echo.

Adapting curricula, teaching methodologies, and the time and place where teaching and learning occur to the needs of students.

Strengthening linkages among research, teaching and economic development as Maryland businesses look to the USM for new technologies to remain competitive.

Improving the information technology infrastructure within the USM and ensuring the technological fluency of all graduates.

The USM intends to meet these challenges.

Our Strategic Plan describes the possible Maryland in 2010. It will have a thriving economy, grounded in its position as an international leader in new technologies and the sciences. Its citizens will be highly educated and engaged in their communities. And its education system will contribute to the economic, cultural and social strengths of the state by meeting the needs of a diverse population.

The state's continued investment in the University System of Maryland can help ensure that the possible Maryland becomes a reality.

Donald N. Langenberg is chancel lor at the University System of Maryland.

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