FALL 2010

We are all aware of the challenges impacting our state and our nation. Economic growth and job creation remain stubbornly slow. The United States has dropped from first in the world in college completion to 10th, creating an "education deficit" that further threatens America's economic leadership and social fabric. The need to address other critical issues—including health care, international terrorism and domestic cyber security—is constant.   

But as you also know, a fundamental aspect of the American experience is to tackle difficulties head-on, turning challenges into opportunities. We at the University System of Maryland (USM) have embraced this approach as we develop our new strategic plan. We are developing the plan as a roadmap to positioning the State of Maryland as a national leader in college completion and to make USM even more of a catalyst to produce the workforce, grow the economy, and generate solutions to many of our challenges. I am proposing that the plan feature five major themes.

Graduating More Students, Closing Maryland's Workforce Gaps

First is our commitment to meeting the goal—set by the State of Maryland—of 55 percent of the population having a postsecondary degree by 2025. Only with a steady stream of highly skilled, well-educated students can we meet our growing workforce needs, especially in the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and the healthcare fields.

Already, each USM university has plans under way to close student achievement gaps in efforts to help more students succeed. Bowie State University recently received a boost in this area, a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen academic and support services for low-income and first-generation students. And related to workforce needs in the health-care field, this fall, our School of Pharmacy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) opened a new state-of-the-art facility to serve students better and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore welcomed the first class of students to its newly launched pharmacy school.

Making Our State More Competitive

Under discussion as the strategic plan's second goal is advancing Maryland's competitiveness. It has been well established that academic R&D is a vital Maryland industry. By adding new research space, upgrading existing space, and enhancing our technology transfer and commercialization efforts, USM can have an even more profound impact on Maryland's economic leadership in the innovation economy. Led by UMB and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), USM institutions attracted more than $1.2 billion in extramural research last year, simultaneously advancing knowledge and discovery while creating jobs and economic growth.

The research and development activities of USM institutions have a profound impact on quality of life. Earlier this fall, a partnership among UMCP, UMB, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) received a $7.9 million federal grant from the National Institutes of Health to help researchers develop new agents to treat diseases. The School of Medicine at UMB is bringing a $200 million Proton Treatment Center to the university's BioPark; the center will be the first in the Baltimore-Washington region to offer proton therapy, considered to be the most state-of-the-art technology in radiation treatment for cancer.

Transforming Education Delivery to Yield More Student Success

The plan's third element would call upon the university system to transform education delivery, with an emphasis on course redesign. Lecture-heavy, passive learning environments are out of sync with the culture and expectations of the new generation of students, who put a premium on active learning, collaboration, and technology. Course redesign, based on the research and work conducted by the National Center for Academic Transformation, uses information technology and more effective learning strategies to enhance student learning while lowering costs. We have already seen success at several of our universities with course redesign pilot projects. Our goal is to replicate this success in many more courses to achieve better learning outcomes and improved progress toward degrees.

Maximizing Efficient Use of Resources

The fourth aspect of the proposed plan would call for USM to continue its exemplary stewardship of resources. This is an area in which the university system is truly a national leader, having launched our Effectiveness and Efficiency Initiative (E&E) several years ago. Thus far, E&E has provided more than $200 million in direct cost savings and significant additional savings through cost avoidance. Thanks in large part to E&E and the new compact it enabled us to establish with leaders in Annapolis, USM has had no tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students over the past four years and had a very modest 3 percent increase for this academic year. As a result, Maryland has gone from having the 6th highest tuition in the nation to the 21st highest over the past several years

Redoubling Commitment to Quality

The fifth and final theme of the new strategic plan would be to continue our commitment to quality and national eminence. This is a core priority that we have long held. In the most recent U.S News & World Report survey, UMCP is ranked 18th among national public universities; Towson University and Salisbury University are both ranked in the Top 10 of Public Regional Universities in the North; UMBC is ranked as the nation's top "Up-and-Coming" National University for the second consecutive year; and University of Maryland Eastern Shore is once again in the Top Tier of America's Best Black Colleges. In addition four USM institutions are included in Kiplinger's Top 100 "Best Values in Public Colleges." We are a university system in which you can take enormous pride, not only for the rankings, but also for our tremendous impact on improving quality of life across the board. 

Taking the Next Steps

I will present the new strategic plan proposal to the USM Board of Regents at its December 3 meeting. I look forward to sending you a copy of the plan once it is finalized and approved. I must stress, however, that approval is merely the first step. If we are serious about positioning Maryland as a powerhouse in the innovation economy, we must be equally serious about making our great state an education leader.

At the same time, strengthening and elevating the University System of Maryland are only of value in so far as they strengthen and elevate our state. Clearly, this will require not just will, but funding resources and action on multiple fronts, with education at all levels partnering with elected officials, business leaders, community leaders, and others. We pledge to work with you to achieve success, so that our mutual goals-and the broader best interests of the greater society-are reached. 

If you'd like to send feedback on what you've read here or on other matters related to the University System of Maryland, please e-mail: chancellorletter@usmd.edu.

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