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Campus program planning hits snag

March 06, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Academic preparations for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center have faltered in the midst of a leadership turnover, a key official said Wednesday.

But recognizing local leaders' fears that the campus won't attract students, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Donald F. Boesch reaffirmed the University System's commitment to the project.

"Frankly, we lost a step or two in this last year," Boesch told Washington County lawmakers at a meeting organized by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

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Boesch is spearheading the Hagerstown project until a permanent vice chancellor is appointed this summer.

The previous vice chancellor left the University System about six months ago, around the time that William E. Kirwan was named chancellor.

With the center scheduled to open next fall in the former Baldwin House complex downtown, Boesch said University System officials need to move quickly to plan the programs that will be offered.

Boesch acknowledged that it may be difficult to get individual campuses to bring their programs to Hagerstown, but he said Kirwan is committed to making that happen.

"It's not going to be easy at first," Boesch said.

The prospect of further budget cuts in 2004 could make it even more difficult, he said.

Right now, Kirwan has carved out $350,000 in the University System's budget for the center's startup. It will cost an estimated $1 million a year to run the center after that, he said.

The center will be managed by one of the 13 public universities in the system, he said.

Hagerstown Community College officials also attended the meeting, repeating doubts that the universities, due to lack of money as well as their distance from Hagerstown, will offer enough programs to make the center successful.

To make the best use of the center, Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri has said he believes it should be opened to out-of-state public and private higher education institutions.

Shippensburg (Pa.) University and Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., have worked to lure community college students to their campuses.

"The competition is clearly there. It's not going to be the only choice for our students so we have to make the center as attractive as we can," Altieri said.

Kirwan has rejected the idea of opening the center to out-of-state institutions.

Boesch said he recognizes the challenges the Hagerstown center will face, including its location and the fact that many high school students do not pursue college degrees.

Some Washington County lawmakers expressed concerns about the $13 million renovation project now under way and whether the building is simply too deteriorated to be renovated.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, suggested that the structure be demolished in favor of a new building.

That would delay the project for three years, said Art Hilsenrad, who works on capital projects in the governor's office.

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