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HBC degree proposal sparks debate

February 15, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Hagerstown Business College's proposal to offer four-year degrees has some people eager for another higher-education choice and others worried about the competition it would pose.

HBC, which offers associate degrees, has asked the Maryland Higher Education Commission to approve bachelor's degrees in information technology and business administration.

The commission was scheduled to vote on the request Wednesday, but the meeting was canceled due to bad weather.

The University System of Maryland, which has a downtown Hagerstown campus with the same bachelor's degrees, opposes HBC's plan.

C. David Warner III, the executive director of the Hagerstown campus, said nursing, education and social work programs are growing, but business administration and information systems management programs are not.

The university system has invested about $17 million in the campus, he said.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission looks at broader factors, said David Sumler, the commission's assistant secretary for planning and academic affairs. He said the county and adjacent areas are growing rapidly enough to support both schools' programs.

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The commission's staff recommends approval, spokeswoman Helen Szablya said.

HBC is trying to serve a county in which the percentage of residents older than 25 with bachelor's degrees - about 14 percent - is around half of the state average, President W. Christopher Motz said.

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

HBC's request for a letter of support from Washington County's state lawmakers sparked a debate Wednesday.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, opposed a letter, arguing that the process should be free of politics. He noted Warner's opposition to the plan.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, agreed and asked to have his name omitted if there's a letter of support. He said he's on the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown advisory board.

"For heaven's sake, it's a letter," Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said. "It's not political pressure." He offered to "water down the language" in the letter.

"The more educational opportunities there are in the community, the better the community is," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, suggested a letter in his name, as delegation chairman.

The vote was 4-2 in favor of the letter, but the measure failed. The delegation requires at least five votes - a majority of its members - for motions to pass.

Weldon, McKee, Myers and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, voted yes. Shank and Munson voted no.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, were absent.

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