Expanding Higher Ed Menu
By Sheila Gibbons Hiebert
Communication Research Associates, Inc.
The Southern Maryland Higher Education Council was created last year to recommend a long-term strategy for improving access to higher education in the Southern Maryland region. Delays in confirming a permanent council chair likely will push back submission of the Council’s final report, originally scheduled for Dec. 1. Dr. Patricia Florestano, whose term as chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents concludes at the end of the year, has recently assumed chairmanship of the council.
Whenever the report is delivered to Governor Martin O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly, it will be read with keen interest by community members who’d like to see more higher-ed options here.
In an interview with the Lexington Leader this summer, Sabre Systems’ Group Vice President Glen Ives lamented the absence of a University of Maryland campus in Southern Maryland. While praising the quality of other regional academic institutions, Mr. Ives said a four-year college with a STEM emphasis [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] is very much needed.
“Can you imagine if the University of Maryland were to invest in a technology-based curriculum down here where our young people wouldn’t have to go out of the area to get the education they need and would want to stay here? We’d be a draw from other parts of the state or country to come to our four-year institution, not just for that, but for internships here, too,” Mr. Ives said.
In remarks at the Patuxent Partnership’s annual meeting last year, shortly after the creation of the Southern Maryland Higher Education Council, which he championed, Delegate John Bohanan said he favored the development of a non-degree granting research university, affiliated with the University System of Maryland, that could conduct research for NAVAIR.
Campus expansion into the region isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, according to University System of Maryland spokesman Mike Lurie. “At this time, there are no plans to open a new four-year USM institution in Southern Maryland,” he said. “Due to the substantial economic pressure on state resources, the USM continues to proceed with careful stewardship of its existing resources to work toward the goal of increasing the number of STEM graduates throughout the entire system.” At present, Lurie said, “USM is relying on University of Maryland University College – which emphasizes online education and offers high institutional financial efficiency – to shoulder a major portion of USM enrollment growth.”
The conversation about what kind of STEM education to deliver, how to deliver it, and where, is going on everywhere. As anyone starting a degree or trying to complete one knows, universities have crossed their traditional campus boundaries, offering courses delivered in multiple ways and locations. But many of their programs are designed for graduate students or employed persons seeking certification or advanced degrees.
The latest regional newcomer is the University of Mary Washington’s Dahlgren Campus, a state-of-the-art facility on Route 301 in King George, Va. With an appropriation from the Virginia legislature, UMW built a campus with a mandate to present easily accessible engineering and scientific educational opportunities for employees at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren. The campus opened at the beginning of 2012, delivering courses from instructors at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University. There is also a master’s program in strategic studies and national security offered by the Naval War College Fleet Seminar Program.
In contrast with Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus, a traditional four-year liberal arts institution, “We knew the Dahlgren environment would be more of a needs-based and organic environment,” said Mark Safferstone, the Dahlgren campus director. While the emphasis currently is on distance-learning at the graduate level, Safferstone says UMW is in conversation with nearby Virginia community colleges about their potential interest in offering classes at the Dahlgren campus for residents of the surrounding communities. Four-year schools are also being invited to consider offering courses there, Safferstone said.
Safferstone said the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) in California was both an inspiration and a model for what UMW is planning in Dahlgren.
Many universities have adopted a “global university” model, in which they offer courses at sites hundreds or thousands of miles from the main campus. University of Maryland University College was one of the first, offering courses around the globe primarily to students in the military beginning in 1947. Today, other major research institutions are refining that model, combining distance learning with boots-on-the-ground instruction, to meet the demand for career-focused education.
- Central Michigan University’s Metro DC Program has seven locations, all at military installations. The closest one is at Andrews Air Force Base. It offers bachelor’s through doctoral degrees.
- In December 2011, Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, learned it had won a competition to build a two-million square foot applied sciences and engineering campus in New York City. According to Cornell, its students will be “a highly selective graduate student population.”
- Northeastern University, in Boston, opened a satellite campus in Charlotte, NC, last fall, and plans another in Seattle. Master’s programs are tailored to local economic needs and mix distance learning with instruction from professors commuting from Boston.
Closer to home, Naval Air Station Patuxent River employees benefit from on-base courses offered by several universities, including Florida International and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical.
Back to the prospects for students seeking a STEM-oriented bachelors’s degree in Southern Maryland: the University of Maryland, through the SMHEC, offers a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, with students taking their first two years at the College of Southern Maryland, and their last two at SMHEC. They must take at least one course at the UMD campus at College Park. Majors in computer engineering and aerospace engineering may be added eventually. In July, UMCP President Wallace Loh visited NAS Patuxent River, accompanied by Congressman Steny Hoyer, to discuss continuing collaboration between UMCP and Pax River.
“I strongly support additional opportunities to expand access to higher education for Southern Maryland residents, especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics field,” Hoyer told the Leader in a statement.
The need for STEM-qualified employees is urgent. For the approximately 6,000 STEM job openings each year, Maryland’s higher education institutions are handing diplomas to only about 4,000 STEM graduates.
There’s a growing sense in the community that Southern Maryland should play a big part in raising that number.