COLLEGE PARK – In one of his final major speeches as Maryland’s head of state, Gov. Parris N. Glendening Tuesday urged educators to “keep the momentum going” by demanding more funding, a theme he often repeated during his eight- year tenure.
“We must find a way to fund higher education. Quality education at all levels . . . is not something like a spigot that you can turn on and off,” Glendening said in a speech at the University of Maryland to the Governor’s Conference on Higher Education sponsored by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. “It is not discretionary and it is not a luxury. This is, indeed, the best investment we could make.”
But any additional education funding this year will be hard won. The state is facing a $1.3 billion deficit next fiscal year and post-secondary schools will be battling public schools, transportation supporters and advocates for the poor and disabled, all of whom are clamoring for more funding.
Glendening, who is term-limited, has been hailed by supporters as the “education governor.” During his tenure, overall funding for higher education increased by 64 percent. University System of Maryland institutions have experienced their highest enrollments and have dominated national rankings.
Glendening’s term will end in January just as the Maryland General Assembly convenes to wrangle over the budget for this season. Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Ehrlich and Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are vying to succeed him, and the budget woes will be theirs to resolve.
“I think he’s created this benchmark for future governors to follow,” said Maryland Higher Education Commission Secretary Karen Johnson. “He’s like a walking billboard for higher education.”
University system leaders also have been appreciative.
“He has been the most powerful, most effective voice for higher education,” said University of Maryland, College Park, President C.D. Mote Jr.
Yet the achievements so far are not enough, Glendening said.
“Together we have built a strong foundation but we must make it stronger and stronger,” he said. “In a sense, higher education must become our most important industry. That will create an atmosphere where cutting higher education is a last resort.”
The benefits of higher education are irreplaceable, Glendening said. Quality higher education institutions build a strong work force and encourage businesses to come to the state. They also promote research and offer opportunities for young people to turn their lives around.
Glendening’s life story is testament to the power of higher education. He grew up in poverty, at one time living with no electricity or indoor plumbing. After attending community college and earning several degrees at Florida State University, he taught government and politics at Maryland. He later entered politics, becoming Prince George’s County executive and then governor in 1994.
“A college education can become the strongest bridge a person can travel from poverty to prosperity,” Glendening said.
By 2005, he noted, about one-third of job openings in the state will require at least a community college degree.
One of Glendening’s goals as governor was to increase access and affordability at state colleges and universities. Though the state’s tuitions are some of the highest in the country, new efforts are being made by regents to increase need-based aid to students. “We must do more to open the doors of higher education to everyone. We now must focus with equal vigor on equity and access,” Glendening said. “The 21st century is full of promise. I believe the best is yet to come.”