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Maryland Online Doctoral Program Sparks University Fight

The budget squeeze on public institutions of higher education has led to several developments in online education. The prospect of generating revenue has caused many public schools to crank up impressive online programs, notably Penn State and the University of Massachusetts.

Others are trying to get programs underway and are finding that often the principal bottleneck in the process is faculty participation. The University of Illinois folded up its Global University after tenured faculty members effectively refused to participate. The University of Colorado has had similar problems, although their program is online and on target to be in the black by 2012. In Colorado, the online school has ended up paying royalties to faculty members who have developed online course material.

All of this rush towards technology among the traditional colleges and universities has put the question of distance learning quality to rest. The accompanying tuition hikes have also brought the issue of college education cost into focus, as the accredited for-profit school such as the ITT Tech are a substantially cheaper option than many full time public schools.

The University of Maryland's University College, their online division, is offering a doctoral education administration degree with focus on community college management this year. Morgan State University (MSU, also a Maryland state school, has raised objections to the program on the grounds that it competes with an existing program at MSU.

Morgan State is an historically black school, a federal designation that gives it certain protections under the Civil Rights Act. One of those protections is against the provision of degree programs in other schools that compete in such a manner as to further segregation. The Baltimore Sun reviews the history of this conflict between Morgan State and the University of Maryland, describing a similar objection to an MBA degree program several years ago.

While this particular argument is a provincial one, it raises the coming issue of how public schools are going to deal with the competition between their brick and mortar campuses and their online divisions. In the ivy covered halls online degrees have become a threat rather than an object of derision. Should MSU's protest to the Maryland Higher Education Commission succeed, the new doctoral degree would be available to students located in the other 49 states, but not to Maryland residents.

The Washington Post had a recent column on the transition that higher education is facing due to the double whammy of technological alternatives and funding cuts. It may be that the financial plight of public higher education ultimately results in a better, as well as technologically advanced education for students. There is nothing like competition to provide quality, variety, and value in the marketplace.

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