Advocates of a limited bachelor's degree program at Harford Community College took their argument to Annapolis, where they encountered a buzz saw of opposition from four-year education institutions seeking to defend their turf.
"This is clearly about turf. It's about encroachment," Claudia E. Chiesi, president of Harford Community College, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee at a hearing Wednesday about a bill that would allow the school to offer three bachelor's degree programs.
She said her efforts to bring four-year degree programs in technology, professional studies and applied sciences were designed solely to serve the needs of the county.
She said hundreds of students at the community college miss out each year on the chance to further their education and earn considerably more during their lifetimes because they are unable to travel out of the county to attend a four-year school.
Lundy DeGrange, a 34-year-old single parent from Bel Air, testified that it would be nearly impossible for her to pursue a longtime dream of obtaining a bachelor's degree if she has to travel to Towson, College Park or to the University of Delaware.
"Is it too much to expect to make all our lives significantly easier, a little less impossible, by offering us easier access to a bachelor's degree?" she asked the committee members.
Del. Barry Glassman, Republican chairman of the Harford County legislative delegation, testified that the community college's effort is designed to "complement, not compete with, four-year institutions."
Opponents of the legislation didn't see it that way.
Donald F. Boesch, interim vice chairman at University System of Maryland, said that if there were sufficient demand for four-year programs at Harford Community College, he was certain something could be arranged.
He said that the University System has been holding talks with HCC to set up four-year degree program through the University of Maryland's University College.
"My [understanding] is that these discussions have been slowed by the legislative proposal," Boesch said Friday. "Perhaps if this legislation is not approved, we can resume these discussions."
He said the University System offers bachelor's degree programs at Montgomery College, a two-year school in Montgomery County. He said it is working to establish similar programs at Anne Arundel Community College.
Catherine M. Gira, president of Frostburg State University, said giving HCC limited bachelor's degree programs would change the mission of the school.
She questioned HCC's ability to come up with the instructors to teach the upper-level courses.
Ronald J. Volpe, president of Hood College in Frederick, said the current system seems to serve the state well. "Why reinvent the wheel?" he asked, especially during a period of limited financial resources.
Del. David G. Boschert, a Republican representing Anne Arundel County, called the proposed legislation "a good idea," and encouraged opponents of the legislation to "put the students first" in seeking a solution to Harford County's education needs.