As Northeast Md. Grows, Higher Ed Must Grow Also

November 03, 2009|By Anthony G. Brown

Maryland is home to the nation's best-educated and most technologically skilled work force. Such a dynamic and knowledge-based population reaps many benefits. In recent years, Maryland has enjoyed periods of job growth that outperformed nearly every other state and economic prosperity that has positioned the state to survive and pull out of the current economic recession more quickly than others.

Still, new ideas and approaches are required to protect the state's highly competitive work force, especially as Maryland prepares for economic expansion, job growth and population increases.

Because of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decisions and their impact on northeastern Maryland (specifically, Aberdeen Proving Ground), Cecil and Harford counties anticipate a 25 percent increase in local population and the creation of 30,000 new jobs in the next 20 years. This places an immediate and permanent demand for graduate and doctoral programs for established workers and undergraduate opportunities for current and new residents.

The northeastern region lacks a four-year institution and requires residents to travel more than 30 miles to Towson University, the closest full-service, in-state option. The Higher Education and Applied Technology (HEAT) Center, its affiliated institutions and Harford and Cecil community colleges are proving their capability to meet the immediate needs of the community. However, to harness the full potential of the growing northeastern economy and to ensure the creation of thousands of new, highly skilled, good-paying jobs, a permanent solution must be identified.

Last month, I convened a meeting of college and university presidents, business leaders, policymakers and military representatives to begin a high-level conversation that identifies a permanent solution. All participating parties articulated the need for an expanded higher education presence that accounts for the unique needs of the local business community and residents in the region. Participants pointed to the successful strategies used to meet similar needs in other parts of the state.

During the 1990s, the Montgomery County biotech, life-science and existing business community had an increased demand to connect incumbent workers with access to advanced graduate and doctoral programs. At the same time, the county government identified a need for more workers with bachelor's degrees. In 2000, the University System of Maryland opened the Universities at Shady Grove, a collaboration of nine public degree-granting institutions located at one convenient, campus-like facility along I-270 - just miles from many of the employers who first identified the demand for such a facility.

In 2000, Charles County Community College expanded its reach to serve all three counties in Southern Maryland and was renamed the College of Southern Maryland. Today, it offers more than 130 programs and works collaboratively as a catalyst for business, industry and government to identify the resources needed to grow and maintain a healthy economy and community.

Employers and residents in northeastern Maryland, including the Department of Defense, have identified similar challenges as those in Montgomery County and Southern Maryland. Northeast Maryland can also point to substantial growth, which has increased demand for a permanently structured higher education solution.

These successful models provide a starting point for a permanent solution in the northeastern region. While no final decisions have been made and there is a need for follow-up conversations, common ground and common goals have been established by all stakeholders. Any permanent solution must build from the established programs in the region, including community and independent colleges. It must meet the immediate and long-term demands for both graduate and undergraduate programs, and it must reflect the needs articulated by the local business community.

Maryland is growing, dynamic, highly educated because of a shared belief that prosperity is built and opportunities are created. The united commitment to a more robust higher education presence in northeast Maryland will enhance existing opportunities and build greater and longer lasting prosperity across the region.

Anthony Brown, a Democrat, is Maryland's lieutenant governor. His e-mail is ltgov@gov.state.md.us.

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