Details to come on consolidation of education agencies across state
Proposal could streamline college transition, officials say
Among the cost-cutting measures in Gov. Martin O'Malley's fiscal 2012 budget is a proposal to merge the state's higher education coordinating board with the Department of Education, but higher education officials are concerned that no detailed plan has been provided.
A consolidation of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and education department would save an estimated $939,000 by combining staff positions and shared functions, but O'Malley (D) said the move's main appeal is that it would improve the tracking of students as they transition from high school to college.
"It's an efficiency decision. This particular merger is a trend that the two agencies were headed towards eventually anyway," O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said. "The budget situation, I think, put an urgency on it."
The details of the proposal have yet to be worked out, though all parties agree the commission's core functions must remain intact. MHEC establishes policies for state public and private colleges and for-profit career schools and oversees financial aid programs.
"There could be some benefit to this merger in that one of the biggest challenges we have in completing our college graduation rates is the disconnect, the gap between high school graduation requirements and college expectations," University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan said.
Kirwan suggested a structure being considered in other states, including Florida, that would place the K-12 superintendent and higher education secretary in a parallel structure under a new secretary of education. The idea is one of several options for the governor, whose administration is working on a bill, Adamec said.
"There are a number of ways to do this," he added. "The one thing we can't do is do it wrong."
But some officials say a rush to consolidate the two agencies may end up marginalizing MHEC.
"We have no details, and it's very disconcerting for a proposal like this to be thrown out with no detail as to how it would be structured," College of Southern Maryland President Brad Gottfried said. "I'm not in favor of the idea anyway because there are some models that could be much more difficult for us to function under than others."
Gottfried is skeptical that higher education and community colleges in particular would be given the attention and funding they need once paired alongside the K-12 system, the state's largest budgetary obligation.
"The level of interest is very, very different, and rightfully so, by the way. But I would hate to see community colleges and the higher education system get lost in the shuffle," Gottfried said.