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HCC boss' proposals for center rejected

February 28, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan on Thursday rejected a local educator's plan to change how the Hagerstown Education Center would be run.

But Kirwan said he remains committed to the project in downtown Hagerstown.

"We are trying our very best to protect the Hagerstown center in the budget. It's extremely important to us. We know how much it means to the community," Kirwan said.

Last week, Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri gave Washington County lawmakers an eight-page proposal outlining the challenges facing the center and recommending solutions.

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The center is especially vulnerable to budget cuts because it doesn't have a line item in the University System's budget, he said.

Altieri also expressed worry that budget cuts would deter University System presidents from offering programs in Hagerstown when it opens in the fall of 2004.

"They need to worry first and foremost about their own campuses," he said.

Originally, the Hagerstown center was supposed to be modeled after the Shady Grove Education Center, where eight public universities offer courses mostly to students from nearby Montgomery College so they can finish the last two years of their bachelor's degrees.

But Altieri said he doubts the universities, due to insufficient funds as well as their distance from Hagerstown, will offer enough programs in Hagerstown to make such a model successful.

To make the best use of the center, Altieri said he believes the center should be opened up to out-of-state public and private higher education institutions.

He also said he believes Hagerstown Community College should play a larger role in the center's operation, with Frostburg State University still taking the lead.

The college has closer ties to the community than the University System and would be able to offer things that will be lacking at the downtown center such as child-care services and science and technology lab space, he said.

Kirwan said HCC will play a role in the center's success, but he does not endorse the recommendations.

"We were disappointed that the community college would put forth such a proposal without even talking to us," Kirwan said.

Local lawmakers are trying to arrange a meeting with University System officials before they decide what to do with Altieri's plan.

Even if Altieri's plan is rejected, it already has had a positive spinoff effect, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

"The university (system) has in a much more focused way seen the need to step up to the plate to support the Hagerstown center," he said.

Kirwan was in Annapolis on Thursday to ask the legislature to protect the higher education budget.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich has raided the University System's proposed $2.9 billion budget for next year and the legislature is considering nearly $40 million in additional cuts, he said.

About one-third of Ehrlich's budget cuts were directed at the University System, even though the system represents less than 10 percent of the state's budget, Kirwan said.

"It would severely impede our ability to serve the educational needs of the citizens of the state and be the economic engine of the state," he said.

The cuts would come at a time when the state expects to see large increases in college-bound students.

Whether higher education sustains further cuts largely depends on whether the legislature approves Ehrlich's plan to legalize slots and raise $395 million, Munson said.

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