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HBC gets permission to offer four-year degrees

November 30, 1999|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS ? After a pointed debate about competition, accreditation and employment demands, a state commission on Thursday gave Hagerstown Business College permission to offer four-year degrees.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission voted 10-1 to let HBC, a private school, start bachelor's degree programs in information technology and business administration.

Pushing for a stronger, more educated local work force, leaders from Washington County's chamber of commerce and county government testified in favor of HBC's plan.

University System of Maryland representatives objected, saying the new programs would hurt the two-year-old university campus in downtown Hagerstown.

Duplicating local bachelor's degrees "will derail the efforts" to build up the downtown campus, said JoEllen Barnhart, the associate director of the campus, reading a letter by Executive Director C. David Warner III.

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The approval comes after a two-year push by HBC to expand beyond associate degrees and certificates.

Calling it a "momentous" day, HBC President W. Christopher Motz said the next step is asking the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools for approval. He couldn't predict when classes might begin.

Opponents from the university system emphasized that HBC isn't accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, often preventing HBC credits from being accepted by other schools.

Although Kevin M. O'Keefe, chairman of the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said a lack of regional accreditation cannot be a reason for denying HBC's request, some commissioners strongly urged HBC to pursue it.

Regardless, the central issue is preparing people for jobs, said Commissioner Sherman L. Ragland II, who accused the university system of "throwing stones at the wrong thing."

Ragland said he more heavily weighed comments about the degree proposal from county government and business officials than those from the public university system, which sees HBC as a competitor.

Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr and Bradley D. Pingrey, the chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's board, backed HBC's expansion as a way to further the local economy.

More college opportunities would make Washington County better suited for high-technology jobs, Pingrey told the commission.

When the county recruits new businesses, Barr said, "it has become very apparent that higher education is in demand."

Motz has said that Washington County's percentage of residents older than 25 with bachelor's degrees is about half the state average.

To back its request, HBC presented work force studies showing a sizable gap between the number of information technology and business administration bachelor's degree recipients and the number of projected jobs. The studies covered Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland; Franklin County, Pa.; and Berkeley County, W.Va.

Teri Hollander, the university system's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, countered that HBC hasn't documented that there's a high student demand for four-year degrees.

The University System of Maryland at Hagerstown offers bachelor's and master's degrees.

Warner said last month that the nursing, education and social work programs are growing, but the business administration and information systems management programs are not.

HBC is owned by Kaplan Higher Education, part of The Washington Post Co.

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