Work of higher education advisory council could start this year

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State officials are drawing up bylaws for the panel that will review the process the Maryland Higher Education Commission will use when state universities propose new academic programs, with an eye toward a launch this fall. One of the first orders of business will be determining how many members will serve on the panel.

The Program Review Process Advisory Council was established as part of a state law that went into effect this month, to help improve the approval process for new higher education programs at state universities. It grew out of a controversial decision in June 2023 by the MHEC to let Towson University create a new business analytics degree. Morgan State University, one of the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities, objected because it would duplicate a similar program there.

Other HBCU alumni and supporters criticized the decision that they said conflicted with a $577 million settlement approved in 2021 that settled a 2006 lawsuit. That suit claimed the state provided more resources to predominantly white institutions and allowed duplication of programs from Morgan and the three other HBCUs – Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Emily Dow, assistant secretary for academic affairs at MHEC, said Wednesday that the size of the advisory council has not been established, but its composition could include college and university presidents, provosts and other campus staff. One example of the council’s duties would be to review the process on academic online programs primarily focused for out-of-state students.

“We would turn to this advisory council to help us develop that process,” Dow said. “We are the rules? What information do we need? What’s the timeline? That’s just one example of what this process advisory council would review.”

Proposed bylaws for the council could be reviewed by MHEC on July 24. If approved, the commission would send out a call for nominations to serve on the council, with the goal of having its first meeting by the end of September.

“Our biggest goal is representation, ensuring that our community partners are at the table as we develop these processes – both the development of the process and the process itself is transparent,” Dow said.

In April 2023, Gov. Wes Moore (D) appointed MHEC Secretary Sanjay Rai and in July 2023 he appointed eight people to the MHEC board of commissioners – a near-total overhaul of the commission since the Towson-Morgan State decision.

“Definitely a new energy. New support. It’s a new day, as Secretary Rai says,” Dow said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the students.”

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