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University System officials voice confidence in Hagerstown campus

July 24, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The chancellor of Maryland's university system was in Hagerstown on Wednesday to reiterate the state's devotion to the downtown campus.

"We are very committed to this center," Chancellor William E. Kirwan said during a meeting with Herald-Mail editors.

University System of Maryland at Hagerstown Executive Director C. David Warner III, Frostburg State University President Jonathan C. Gibralter and state Sen. Donald F. Munson also were at the meeting and emphasized their focus on having the center succeed.

USM-H backers said they want to reassure people concerned about the campus' budget uncertainty during the last state legislative session and recent job cuts there.

Kirwan said the decision to cut five of 18 staff jobs at the center starting July 1, including the associate executive director, was not connected to a budget battle waged in the spring, when a Southern Maryland delegate tried to redirect USM-H money to other higher education centers, including one in his district.

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Almost all of USM-H's 2008-09 funding was restored just before the General Assembly's session ended.

Kirwan said the job cuts, which he called "rightsizing," were the result of lower-than-expected enrollment.

In 2005, Frostburg State University closed its center in Frederick, Md., as it moved to the new USM-H campus. USM officials said they expected more Frederick students to gravitate to FSU in Hagerstown, but they didn't.

Warner has said he hoped for at least 500 students as USM-H launched, but the campus had 356 students in the fall after it opened.

Enrollment was up to 380 this spring, an increase of almost 7 percent.

Kirwan said the number of full-time-equivalent USM-H students, a measure of full course loads, has risen faster.

After starting in January 2005 with three schools and 12 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, the Hagerstown campus has grown to six schools and 19 programs. Other programs are expected to be added, although agreements aren't in place yet, officials said.

One area that USM-H supporters hope to improve is the campus' draw from Hagerstown Community College.

Warner said USM's Shady Grove campus in Rockville, Md., gets about 70 percent of its students from local community colleges, but about 46 percent of USM-H's students are from HCC.

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