Kirwan lays out issues facing higher education

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In an informal presentation to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Education Committee, University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan presented a compelling portrait of where the state stands in terms of global competition and what that means for our institutions of higher education.

“We face global competition like I have never seen before,” said the leader of the state system. “When you look at Europe and Asia, investments in science and technology are ramped up but the United States is flat.” National security concerns demand a cadre of high quality professionals and cutting edge technology as do environmental issues and yet our educational status has fallen. Among industrialized nations, the United States ranks seventh in the number of people who go to college at a time when the connections between universities and what the United States wants to achieve has never been stronger.

Kirwan said that Maryland is poised to be a leader in the global knowledge economy but can not take that position for granted. Unlike other states, in Maryland the four year public and private colleges and the community colleges work together. Maryland also has a strong partnership between higher education and the K-12 system. Maryland has a K-16 Council, a forum to discuss the big issues that affect the entire education spectrum and take action to address them.

Maryland ranks second in the nation in total research and development expenditures and number one in per capita expenditures for R and D. Federal research and development expenditures account for 50,000 jobs in the state. “With a robust technology sector, the State has the capacity to be the Silicon Valley of bioscience,” said Kirwan. “We have a winning hand and the challenge is to make it successful.”

What are the challenges to reaching that pinnacle of success? First, said Kirwan, is access to higher education. There is a huge surge in the 18-22 population emerging and the state must make the necessary investments to ensure that we have adequate capacity to respond to this surge. Second is achieving effectiveness and efficiency in the system. Over the last three years, University System of Maryland, through good management practices, has reduced its base cost of operations by $54 million. One way the system did this was by purchasing energy collectively as a system, and realizing an $18 million saving. Workforce and economic growth is a third challenge. The state is not training enough teachers, healthcare workers, or technology workers. There is a large shortage of pharmacists.

Maintaining course quality is also challenging. Finally, adequate funding continues to be an issue. Because of changes in the state budget over the years and through different adminstrations, funding for the system “has been on a roller coaster.” Kirwan said it is imperative for planning that the system be able to count on stable funding.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan Biography

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