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Help needed to guarantee university funding

October 05, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

Help wanted: Educational professional with a master's degree, capable of coordinating programs with five or more different colleges, recruiting students and acting as a community spokesman for a new institution which at present has only an unfinished classroom building and no guaranteed operating funds.

Sound like one of those reality-show torture tasks like being buried up to your neck in grasshoppers? It isn't. It's a real job that involves directing the new University System of Maryland center in downtown Hagerstown. And according to Dr. Gertrude Eaton, the job will be filled by January 2004.

Eaton, an associate vice chancellor for academic affairs with USM, has been charged with overseeing development of the local center, scheduled to open in 2005.

Like the Shady Grove center, where she had a similar role, the Hagerstown center won't just be a night school for working adults looking for MBAs or technical training, but an undergraduate facility as well, giving graduates of two-year community college programs a chance to finish four-year degrees while living at home.

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The new director will be hired through Frostburg State University, Eaton said, adding that FSU will provide many services for the center, saving USM the cost of creating an admissions department and a registrar's office, for example.

But FSU's first job will be finding the right person to serve as the center's director. Eaton's description of the job suggests that a successful candidate will need to be a diplomat, a cheerleader and a marketing director.

"We're looking for a person who has a minimum of a master's degree, who is familiar with the principles and processes of higher education," Eaton said.

Because the course offerings will come from a number of different institutions, the director will have to ensure that students can make a seamless transfer from one institution to another.

"That person's first job will be setting up student services and recruitment, she said, adding that recruiting is a must because "just because you build it, doesn't mean that they will come."

To ensure that there are students, Eaton said the director will put on things like student fairs and set up focus groups to find out what courses students want and encourage them to attend.

The director will have help in that job from USM's local advisory board, which Eaton said would likely be a mix of elected officials and community leaders appointed by USM's chancellor.

There will be 15 to 20 members on that board, Eaton said, though much of the work will be done by a smaller executive committee.

It all sounds wonderful, but the bills have to be paid and while the construction cash has been committed and work is under way, the first year's operating budget - about $1 million - has not been guaranteed. That's why local folks must step up, Eaton said.

"The university system's budget is flat for next year," she said, adding that USM has already committed $100,000 for planning at the Hagerstown center.

The $1 million in operating funds is being submitted as a separate item, Eaton said, "and it's up to the community to get that pulled out of the separate list and made a governor's priority."

State Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, this week said he's already spoken to Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who he said told him that "It's on my radar."

In addition, Munson said he's persuaded Ulysses Currie, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, to write a letter asking the governor to place it in the budget.

Munson said it couldn't hurt for citizens and businesspeople to write letters to top state officials.

"Getting it in there is one thing. Making sure it stays is another," Munson said.

How can you as an average citizen help? By writing a letter to three key players in state government: Gov. Robert Ehrlich, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller.

In your letter, you might mention that this project will not only allow Maryland to improve its economic development effort by increasing the percentage of local people with four-year degrees, but will also allow people of modest means to send their children to college without having to pay for dormitories and meal plans.

And don't forget to say something about how the center could give a big boost to the revitalization of downtown Hagerstown and enable more businesses that would pay state taxes to do business there.

Try not to be negative. Of course there will be other projects in the budget that are less worthy than this one, but your letter should take the high road. Advocate instead of denigrate.

The addresses are:

- Governor Robert Ehrlich, 100 State Circle, Annapolis, Md., 21401

- House Speaker Michael Busch, Maryland State House, H-101, Annapolis, Md., 21401

- Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, Maryland State House, H-107, Annapolis, Md., 21401.

Don't have time to write, or aren't sure what to say? Then just clip this column, stick it in an envelope and write "I agree" across the top. These folks are smart. They'll get the message.

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