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The University System of Maryland is ready to establish a significant presence in Southern Maryland, headquartered in a classroom building with advanced research facilities that the state government is poised to build.

This will expand higher education opportunities here, and the research facilities will bring the university system’s current focus on transforming university research to commercial technology. It’s just this focus on aiding entrepreneurship that the region needs to diversify the economy here, to make it less reliant on federal government payrolls and contracts in a time of furloughs, shutdowns and budget cuts.

The plan is to bring this university building to the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in Wildewood in St. Mary’s County, which could transform that facility. The board of governors of the center has signed on, agreeing to begin discussions about merging with the University System of Maryland.

That agreement was unanimous but not without reservations. That is understandable. The Southern Maryland Higher Education Center was established by the state legislature in 1994 to bring higher education classes close to home for the workforce at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and others working toward undergraduate and advanced professional degrees.

It was one of the investments the state government made to bolster Pax River’s position during a time of military base realignment and closing. When that process settled out, thousands of new jobs came to the area with the location at Pax River of the headquarters of the Naval Air Systems Command.

In the higher education center’s early years, its executive director and board of governors had to work hard to persuade colleges and universities to offer graduate and undergraduate classes in Southern Maryland. Today, about 100 academic programs leading to undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees are offered at the center by about a dozen universities and colleges. This has changed the lives of thousands of Southern Marylanders, who can advance their professional education without traveling long distances to take classes.

During the center’s early years, the University of Maryland College Park, the flagship of the University System of Maryland, wasn’t much interested in offering classes here. It does now, but those memories remain for some of those with longtime ties to the higher education center, and they had to look past them in agreeing to move toward a merger.

Looking to the future, those who built the center into what it has become want to ensure that the programs there now can remain after a merger. It is indeed important that students enrolled in any college’s program of studies can complete their degrees after the merger.

It is also important that even as the state’s public university system brings its research work to the region and ramps up its offerings in engineering and other technical fields, other professional degree program continue to be offered. Teachers, health care workers and others seeking to advance their education should continue to find programs at the center to help them do that. In fact, those programs should be expanded.

These are not deal-breaking obstacles, and in fact the merger with the state public university system carries with it the potential for course offerings in all fields at the higher education center to grow.

The center’s leaders were wise to take the next step to meet the new challenges Southern Maryland faces in changing economic times.