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William E. “Brit” Kirwan has been chancellor of the University System of Maryland since 2002. He was president of The Ohio State University from 1998 to 2002 and president of the University of Maryland, College Park from 1988 to 1998. Previously, he was a member of the University of Maryland faculty for 24 years. He co-chairs the governor's P-20 STEM Task Force and is a member of the Governor's International Advisory Board and the Maryland Economic Development Commission. He also is a board member of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Greater Baltimore Committee, Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education. Question: What challenges or obstacles does Maryland face as it tries to recover from the Great Recession? Answer: Maryland currently has a highly educated work force, but lacks the quantity of graduates needed to address future needs. Economists say that by 2020, 60 percent of jobs in Maryland will require a two- or four-year college degree. Presently, only 44 percent of Maryland adults have a postsecondary degree and shortages are especially acute in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If Maryland is to have a strong knowledge driven economy in the future, it must invest in higher education today. Q: What role can, or should, a so-called “innovation economy” play in this recovery? A: The innovation economy is Maryland's future. Maryland is home to more than 50 federal facilities [NIH, FDA, NIST, NASA-Goddard]. Leading private companies have a significant Maryland presence [Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Verizon, etc.]. We have world-class research universities. But our success is not guaranteed. We must make the investments and build the infrastructure necessary to commercialize the wealth of intellectual property we generate as a state. Maryland ranks No. 1 in R&D per capita but 28th in our capacity to turn R&D into economic activity. Q: What are the University System of Maryland's strengths? What are its weaknesses — and how can they be fixed? A: The USM's greatest strength is the quality of our institutions. Every USM university has achieved high national ranking (Kiplinger's, Princeton Review, Diverse, U.S. News, etc.). Our commitment to affordability is also stellar. With tuition held flat four consecutive years (2006-09), Maryland's tuition rate has moved from sixth highest down to 25th. Our key challenges include overcoming the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and addressing the fact that Maryland is a net-exporter of academic talent entering higher education. Q: What is the university system's proper role in strengthening the state's economy? What steps have you taken in this regard? A: The USM's new strategic plan — “Powering Maryland Forward: USM's 2020 Plan for More Degrees, a Stronger Innovation Economy, and a Higher Quality of Life” — has two key goals. The first is advancing Maryland toward the goal of having 55 percent of the adult population holding an associates or bachelor's degree. The second is enhancing Maryland's competitiveness by increasing graduates in science and engineering 40 percent, addressing work-force shortages in areas such as cybersecurity and health care, and strengthening collaboration with the private sector. Q: How can the university system bolster its technology-transfer programs to compete with those in other states? A: We need to recruit more top talent — students and faculty — especially in the so-called STEM disciplines. We need to invest in our technology infrastructure to support commercialization of intellectual property and foster technology transfer. We need to expand our partnerships with private industry. Our goal — as articulated in the strategic plan — is to double the volume of research conducted at our institutions to more than $2 billion per year, while helping to create 325 successful companies. Q: A University System of Maryland report this year said the system needs to beef up its cybersecurity programs to meet growing market demand in Maryland. How do higher education officials expand in-demand programs and strengthen their ties with the state's private sector when the state's budget is tight and businesses may be wary of untried cooperative arrangements? A: We are aggressively pursuing the recommendations of the Cyber Security Task Force in education, research, and partnerships. We have added new degree programs (both campus-based and online). UMCP's launched a new Maryland Cybersecurity Center, fostering public-private partnerships while addressing national vulnerabilities. And UMBC's Research and Technology Park has become a cybersecurity hub. In addition, we are developing “2+2” articulation agreements with community colleges in the area of cybersecurity. Our goal is to make Maryland the nation's epicenter for cybersecurity. Q: With the proposed merger of the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, what would be the role of the system's other institutions that conduct research? Should they be concerned that they would lose out? A: At the General Assembly's request, the Board of Regents is studying the advantages and disadvantages of merging UMB and UMCP. On Dec. 15, the board will issue its findings based on a rigorous analysis of the impact on the two institutions and on the system as a whole. There will be two public hearings on the pros and cons of the merger. The USM home page, www.USMD.edu, contains complete information on the hearing schedule and status of the study. Q: How much of a role, if any, should the system have in collaborating with non-system universities in Maryland to strengthen the state's economy? A: Given the state's fiscal constraints and the importance of higher education in building a stronger Maryland, greater collaboration among higher education institutions is an imperative. The good news is that this is occurring at an accelerating rate. USM is working with the community colleges to build a more seamless transfer process for students to move from the two-year to four-year sectors. And, we are partnering with Johns Hopkins on important R&D initiatives in Montgomery County and in the Greater Baltimore region.