Opinion: Regional Higher Ed Will Play Pivotal Role in ‘New Norm’

Higher Ed
Universities at Shady Grove in Montgomery County

The far-reaching impacts of the global pandemic over the past year have profoundly transformed our lives in innumerable ways and there is no doubt that in its wake will be a “new normal” for virtually every aspect of our society. Higher education is no exception.

In order to effectively meet the needs of a rapidly changing student population and an even more rapidly changing world, today’s universities and colleges need to be nimble and flexible in the way they deliver their academic programs and meet regional needs by developing a well-educated, skilled and versatile talent pipeline for evolving times.

Anne Khademian, executive director of the Universities at Shady Grove.

As the leaders of the University System of Maryland’s three regional higher education centers – the Universities at Shady Grove in Montgomery County, USM at Hagerstown and USM at Southern Maryland – we are pleased to be overseeing what we believe are unique assets for the university system, by enabling so many of our leading Maryland universities to expand their reach throughout the state and leverage their strengths with degree and certification programs tailored to meet workforce needs.

Our institutions are relatively unique on a national level, in the way they are modeled, and our existence and the support we have received from USM and state lawmakers is a testament to Maryland’s commitment to excellence in public higher education.

Eileen Abel, executive director of the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland.

Our non-residential, community-based campuses are partnered not only with our various public universities, but also with local community colleges to provide seamless transfer opportunities for students seeking to earn bachelor’s and graduate degrees close to home.

We literally provide our partner universities with the ability to “meet students where they are” and to envelope them with outstanding student services and academic support. Perhaps most importantly, we provide convenient access to an affordable, high-quality education for many students who may not otherwise be able to pursue their degrees and realize their educational and career goals, if not for our existence.

We are innovative and we are results-driven, exemplified by the fact that we are laser-focused on key priorities such as ensuring that transfer students have the tools and support they need to be successful in their degree and career pursuits.

Mark Halsey, executive director of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

The Universities at Shady Grove – now 20 years into its existence as the first and largest of the regional centers – has, for example, turned out approximately 12,000 graduates with degrees from its nine partner universities, since its inception. Each of those diplomas awarded bears the name not of USG, but of the highly respected state university in which the students were enrolled, while attending the regional campus.

USM at Hagerstown, which opened in 2005 to provide public higher education access beyond community college to an underserved population between central and western Maryland, has provided the opportunity for more than 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students to obtain degrees from its five partner universities.

USM at Southern Maryland, the newest of the regional centers – having officially joined USM in 2019 and serving Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties – has offered baccalaureate, master’s and doctorate programs to more than 3,000 students enrolled through its partner universities, including five USM institutions.

Given the very real and severe fiscal challenges facing our state and the nation in the years ahead, it may be easy for policy makers or budget analysts to look for quick fixes in their search for savings. But given the way things are changing – not just due to the fallout from the pandemic, but also due to the changing needs of students who often need to work while going to school and want to stay in their home communities – this would be exactly the wrong time to take such actions.

Rather, it’s more critical than ever that funding for our institutions is protected at this pivotal time and that we invest in the future of innovative, cost-effective solutions such as ours – both in higher education and in other arenas that will be key to the full restoration of our state’s economic prosperity.

We are part of the solution – a very important part.

— ANNE KHADEMIAN, EILEEN ABEL AND MARK HALSEY

The writers are, respectively, executive director of the Universities at Shady Grove, executive director of the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland and executive director of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.