Western Maryland Higher Education

Once you go past Frederick County Maryland, into the Western Maryland Counties, there are only two state run institutions of higher education–Frostburg State University and the University System of Maryland–Hagarstown facility. That is all. Now one could reasonably argue that Maryland is a pretty small state and it doesn’t take long to get to central Maryland, the DC area or Baltimore, but you might be surprised at the time and distance involved. For example, the USMH facility is closer to University of Maryland-College Park than it is to Frostburg. So why do I bring this up, wellyesterday the House of Delegates debated a measure that would slash the USMH facilities budget by 2/3. A victim of the shrinking budget? Nay, a victim of politics.

A plan approved by a House Appropriations subcommittee would cut USM-Hagerstown’s fiscal year 2009 budget from about $2.1 million to about $700,000.

Money would shift to six non-USM education centers throughout the state, including one in the district of the subcommittee chairman, Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary’s.

If the USM-Hagerstown cut stands, “we close the doors on that,” said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. “I don’t see how Hagerstown can survive on that amount of money.”

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The change applies only to the House version of the state budget. The Senate didn’t cut USM-Hagerstown funding.

Delegates and senators on a conference committee would work out differences between the two versions.

Bohanan said the change his subcommittee approved would address “a huge disparity” in funding.

Bohanan wants to shift the money to the Southern Maryland Higher Education center in his county.

I am not so naive as to believe that politics is often a function of who controls what committee, so Bohanan’s move is not surprising. What is surprising is the lack of notice (somone’s lobbyist is falling down on the job) and the lack of outrage from the USM itself.

Where is the much vaunted concern of the O’Malley adminsitration for higher education? Where is the concern for the people of Western Maryland? Most of the students at USMH are night students, working during the day and seeking to better themselves at night. USMH has full time program to address a critical shortage in nursing (it has a very high tech nurse training facility including some life-like patient simulators. For a facility less than three year old and championed as a model of smart growth and redevelopment, it seems such a waste to allow this facility to close. Millions of dollars were spent on the equipment, facility modernization and other efforts to make the building (a former hotel) and grounds attractive.

Further adding to the strangeness, USMH and the Washington County Schools recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will bring a high school for the arts into the building.

Don’t ignore western Marylanders–they deserve more than one state school in Frostburg.

Disclosure: Another reason I care, my wife is employed by USMH and her job would probably be on the chopping block.



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