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USM-H task force members differ on value of study

July 16, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- Funding for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown hinges more on a battle among state lawmakers than on the outcome of a task force studying the downtown center, Del. John P. Donoghue said.

The group met for the second time Thursday, when Donoghue, D-Washington, who is a member of the task force, repeated his claims that a report produced by the study group will not prevent a third consecutive year of state budget struggles for the center.

"We're prepared to do the battle all over again," he said.

This year's legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly marked the second consecutive year USM-H was considered for budget cuts, leading Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, to suggest a task force be formed to study USM-H. The task force will meet again in August before submitting a report to state lawmakers in September.

Myers, Donoghue, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, and other state and local business, education and community leaders are on the 22-member task force.

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"Senator Munson and I voted for the state budget," Donoghue said. "There are other members of our delegation who do not."

Donoghue said lawmakers in other counties are angry that some Washington County representatives vote against the state budget, yet want full funding for local needs.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, worked with Myers to include the task force requirement in the state budget.

Last year, Bohanan pushed to eliminate all $2.1 million for fiscal year 2009 for USM-H and spread it among several non-USM higher-education centers, including one in his district. Under the proposal, USM-H might have received $700,000. The House and Senate negotiated a compromise that restored $2 million to USM-H.

This year, the House recommended a $500,000 cut for the downtown Hagerstown campus, while the Senate voted to increase its funding by 1 percent in fiscal year 2010. A compromise was reached to maintain full funding for USM-H, but spread $900,000 among six other higher education centers in the state, including the Southern Maryland Regional Higher Education Center, which is in Bohanan's district.

'Spinning our wheels'

Bruchey said Thursday he agrees the task force report largely will be ignored in budget discussions.

"We're spinning our wheels to come up with a report to give the state of Maryland that's going to tell them what they already know ... it's been explained every time," he said.

However, Bohanan has told The Herald-Mail previously he is pleased the task force has started its work and hopes its findings are considered before the University System of Maryland prepares its budget.

Teri Hollander, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University System of Maryland, who is a member of the task force, said he agreed state lawmakers will try to cut funding for USM-H during negotiations to finalize the next state budget.

"We won't convince people who already have made up their mind (about USM-H)," he said. "But if the report is a bad report ... it gives those who might want to harm us another opportunity. It's really important that this report be done well ... and with the understanding that we're still going to have to fight the fight."

On Thursday, the task force examined spending, state revenue and student resources among regional higher education centers statewide and compared them to USM-H.

The six non-USM regional higher education centers in the state operate on less state money than USM-H. However, USM-H is the newest of Maryland's eight regional higher education centers, and since it opened in 2005, it has grown to become the third largest.

Mary Baykan, executive director of the Washington County Free Library, represents the Greater Hagerstown Committee on the task force and questioned how many students or programs other centers had after only four years.

As of the fall of 2008, USM-H had 21 programs from six universities and enrolled 455 students. Officials at the Universities at Shady Grove, which USM-H is modeled after, have said the center enrolls about 3,000 graduate, undergraduate, full- and part-time students, making it the largest regional higher education center in the state.

The Shady Grove center opened about nine years ago.

"We can't assume (USM-H) is going to grow the way Shady Grove has grown," said HCC President Guy Altieri, a task force member. "It always is going to be smaller than Shady Grove, and the cost per student always is going to be higher."

The cost per pupil at the Shady Grove center was $4,007 in the last fiscal year based on 1,844 full-time equivalent students, officials have said.

In fiscal year 2009, the cost per full-time equivalent student at USM-H was $7,667, and that number is expected to drop to $5,500 by 2012, according to the center's business plan.

On Thursday, the task force also discussed partnerships between USM-H and Hagerstown Community College, Kaplan University, Frederick (Md.) Community College and Washington County Public Schools.

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