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Deal could restore full funding for USM-H

April 08, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Delegation frustrated by progress on possible USM-H program

ANNAPOLIS -- It appears the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown might have escaped budget cuts again this year.

State lawmakers have reached a preliminary decision to fully fund the downtown Hagerstown campus -- a compromise between a House vote to cut funding by $500,000 in fiscal year 2010 and a Senate decision to give USM-H a 1 percent funding increase.

The center currently operates on a $2 million budget.

"I'm pleased they've restored full funding," USM-H Executive Director C. David Warner III said. "We have new and exciting programs in the pipeline. This full funding will allow us to grow into the future."

USM as a whole stands to have its budget reduced during negotiations, which are still ongoing, and Warner said those cuts could mean less money for USM-H.

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"In these economic times, the budget the system is receiving from the state is a good one, but there's still a cut in there to the system," Warner said.

Task force



Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, a member of the conference committee working out a compromise on the state's budget, said the preliminary decision also includes the creation of a task force to study the Hagerstown campus.

The language tentatively agreed upon regarding the task force is similar to a proposal by Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, to establish a task force to study the center's viability.

The conference committee has altered Myers' amendment to name specific people who will be members of the task force, like the mayor of Hagerstown, the County Commissioners president and representatives from USM-H, the Chamber of Commerce and other local groups.

Myers said he was "fine" with the modification to his amendment.

"I believe we are all on the same page and have the same goal," he said. "We have to look at all of our options. We have to look at making USM-H survive."

Warner said he was disappointed at the establishment of a task force to study the center.

"USM-H is modeled after (the Universities at Shady Grove)," he said. "The model works. USM-H is the newest of the eight (regional higher education centers), and we've grown to be the third largest in a short amount of time. That proves the model works."

USM-H has grown from 12 programs when it opened four years ago to 19 programs, with plans to add two more in the next academic year. The cost per pupil at USM-H has dropped from $8,000 per student in fiscal year 2008 to $5,000 in the current fiscal year, Warner has said.

As of the fall of 2008, USM-H offered programs from six universities and enrolled 455 students.

Results



Warner said he expects the task force to find that USM-H is uniquely positioned to offer quality academic programs, and that the report could help USM-H avoid any future attacks on its funding.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he and Munson worked together to restore funding this year, as they did last year.

"In the future, we'll go through the same fight until we can prove that we are unique and that we deserve that full funding every year," Donoghue said.

Donoghue said he and Munson will be on the task force that could form to study the center.

"What Sen. Munson and I have done will prove that we're very viable and worth every penny," Donoghue said.

A study of the center already is under way. Gaye McGovern, chair of the board of advisors for USM-H, said the board's committee of governmental affairs has been examining the center's long-term financial viability.

Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce President Brien Poffenberger said there will not be competing task forces studying USM-H.

"Even though it may look like different groups have different ideas, we all have the same idea," he said. "We're going to work together to figure it out."

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