Rawlings opposes consolidating two higher-ed agencies

Ehrlich may overhaul system after his first year

critics say duties overlap

January 15, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

An influential state lawmaker said yesterday that he would resist any attempt to consolidate Maryland's higher-education bureaucracy, despite the concerns of critics who see costly duplication in the agencies that oversee the state's colleges and universities.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Higher Education Commission and the central office of the University System of Maryland both have roles to play and that he would defend them against any reorganization that might be considered by Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"I don't think there are any efficiencies to generate," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "The Republicans are coming and having these issues confront them for the first time, but they are novices at their review. We've debated these issues, and we've improved the quality of our higher-ed structure."

Rawlings was responding to a report yesterday in The Sun on the overlapping duties of the $6.8 million higher education commission, which oversees all post-secondary schools in the state, and the $11.5 million university system office, which manages 11 of the state's 13 public four-year colleges.

Ehrlich said yesterday that he expects to consider the possibility of overhauling the double-layered structure, but doesn't plan to address the issue in his first year in office.

"Not this year. [Higher-education reform] would fall in the ... category of `Once we have time to catch our breath,'" Ehrlich said. "These decisions are important decisions, and you don't make them in eight weeks."

The university system office, which has 103 employees, and the Higher Education Commission, with 82 employees, share many duties. Both regulate academic offerings, help develop college budget requests and try to build public support for higher-education funding.

The commission also has duties all its own - managing scholarships, monitoring career schools and representing colleges not in the university system: private colleges, community colleges, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Critics contend that its contribution doesn't amount to much, a claim commission officials rebutted yesterday. Assistant Secretary Janice Doyle said the agency's productivity was a reflection of the emphasis placed on it by the administration in power - not of the agency itself.

"Part of the question is, `What do they want us to be?'" Doyle said. "The way we are, the things we do or don't do, reflects what higher-ups or governors want us to do."

Del. James E. Proctor Jr., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee for education spending, said his panel has discussed possible reforms of the higher-education bureaucracy but "just hasn't gotten to it yet."

"The question is, with so many things taking budget cuts, are some other things being duplicated?" said Proctor, a Prince George's Democrat.

But Rawlings said change was unlikely.

"If you look at the realities, we've made enormous progress" with the oversight agencies, he said. "I don't think Governor Ehrlich wants to assume the burden of turning back the clock."

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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