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Chancellor's Speeches

Montgomery College Fall Opening Meeting

Remarks by William E. Kirwan

Chancellor, University System of Maryland

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Thank you, Michael, for that warm and generous introduction. In many ways, you are a perfect example of the power Montgomery College has to prepare students for achievement and success: Just think, you are both the top Information Systems graduate of College Park's Smith School of Business AND a Montgomery College transfer student. Students like you are a primary reason why Montgomery College has moved from being one of Maryland's best kept secrets to one of Maryland's most valued and utilized assets!

When you consider the fact that over 60% of Montgomery County Public School graduates who stay in Maryland for college attend Montgomery College . . . or that Montgomery College transfers more students to USM institutions than any other community college in Maryland . . . or that Montgomery College is second only to the University of Maryland when it comes to the size of its undergraduate student body - - I think it is safe to say that the word is out! I have no doubt that, if U.S. News & World Report were to issue community college rankings, Montgomery College would be at the top.

In addition to serving so many students so well with traditional programs, just think of the many innovative programs you have created. For example, to ensure that Montgomery College students are challenged, you created the Montgomery Scholars honors program, with a full summer of study at Cambridge University in England. To address pressing workforce needs in the knowledge economy, you created a one-stop Information Technology Institute, opened the new Health Sciences Center in Silver Spring, and will soon feature a new biotech education center and life sciences business park at the Germantown campus. And to make sure the next generation of students is prepared for the rigors of higher education, you established partnerships with public schools throughout the county. As your President Charlene Nunley reminds everyone, this great institutional success is a "team" effort. And I commend and congratulate each and every one of you for the great institution you have collectively developed.

But, as we know, every great team must have a great leader and that is precisely what you have in Charlene Nunley. I could literally use the rest of my time this morning outlining the tremendous strides Montgomery College is making under Charlene's leadership, or talking about what a wonderful partner she has been with the USM, or talking about how no one has done a better job of sounding the alarm that access to higher education in Maryland is at great risk. As I focus my brief comments this morning on issues impacting the entire higher education spectrum, you will note how often the leadership and partnership of Charlene and Montgomery College come forward. So Charlene, let me publicly acknowledge the debt all of us who care about access to quality higher education owe to you and your dynamic leadership.

Leadership like Charlene's has never been more important because I genuinely believe we are at a critical cross-road with public higher education, both in Maryland and across this nation.

Obviously, the major challenge for higher education across the country is funding. State revenues are down, and higher education has been forced to absorb a disproportionate share of the budget cuts. State support for the UMS, for example, was reduced by 14% two years ago and we have been level funded each year since then. In real, not constant dollars, we actually stand at the same state-funding level we did five years ago when we served 8,000 fewer students. On a per-student basis, our funding has dropped from $8,500 per student five years ago to $7,500 per student today. Unfortunately, since community college funding is tied to the System's funding, these reductions have had a direct impact on you.

Like most systems and universities across the US, the USM used a combination of tuition increases and spending cuts to address our budget shortfall, including the elimination of some 800 positions, or 4% or our workforce. As a result, class sizes have grown; course offerings have been reduced; support services have diminished; students are paying tuition at a level they could not possibly have planned for when they began their studies; and our ability to accommodate enrollment increases is in doubt. If not reversed, these actions threaten the quality of our campuses - a standard of quality that has taken years to achieve. I'm sure this all sounds very familiar to all of you because you have experienced precisely the same kinds of things.

I fear that the dynamic at work in our nation and our state is more than just a sluggish economic cycle, however. There appears to be a troubling long term trend at work. Forces seem to be moving us away from the very approach that has served public higher education and our nation so well. There is a demonstrable shift in the public's attitude away from thinking of higher education as a "common good" to considering it more of a "private benefit". By this I mean, rather than states and the federal government investing in higher education to make college accessible and affordable in recognition of the fact that an educated citizenry benefits the larger society, there is a dramatic shift toward expecting individuals to pay a larger share of the cost sinceas the argument goescollege graduates have a significant increase in lifetime earnings power. If this trend continues unabated, higher education opportunities could be denied thousands of young people in the future either because the costs are too high or the capacity is inadequate.

Compounding our funding problems is the fact that we in higher education are experiencing a sharp surge in enrollment demand. Although the impact is not evenly distributed across the states, over the next several years we will see the "baby boom echo" reach college age. In Maryland, enrollment is projected to increase by nearly 30% by the end of the decade, putting both the University System and our community collegesespecially Montgomery Collegeunder incredible pressure.

Not only will that population cohort be large, it will be disproportionately minority and low income. Moreover, laudable efforts are being undertakenboth at the national level and on the state levelto ensure that a greater percentage of these individuals will be able to move on to college. So, we in higher education face the prospect of a growing percentage of a growing population of youth, which is disproportionately economically disadvantaged, expecting to continue their education at the very time when public investment in higher education is sharply declining. And this does not even factor in the huge growth we anticipate from a growing population of life long learners. I call this higher education's "perfect storm."

These two realities -- reduced funding and surging enrollment -- threaten our colleges and universities, and are in conflict with the overall heightened expectations placed upon our institutions with regard to workforce preparedness and economic development. But the greatest threat posed by the double whammy of declining public support and rising enrollment demand is not to higher education. It is to the future well being of our nation. Imagine living in an America where the ladder of opportunity, which higher education represents, is not available to tens of thousands of qualified young people from the lower end of the economic spectrum. Imagine living in an America where, because there is an inadequately skilled domestic workforce, business must export more and more high skilled jobs overseas, or import talent from abroad, to sustain our knowledge-based economy.

The bottom line is, that if we are going to protect the quality of our higher education institutions and accommodate the enrollment surge, the state must begin to reinvest in higher education. Although I believe both the Governor and the General Assembly agree on this point, they just don't agree on the revenue source to accommodate this end. But, the clock is ticking. Our leaders must not shirk their responsibility. They must come together, resolve our state's revenue issues, and allow higher education to build the quality and capacity necessary to insure a bright future for state.

Without adequate state support, higher education will face two options: We can either maintain quality by continuing to raise tuition at a very high rate, closing the door to higher education for 1000s of students; or we can keep tuition modest for affordable access, and allow higher education to grow into mediocrity.

To support our case for additional funds, it is imperative that we in higher education have our act together. We must show a willingness to be accountable for the effective and efficient use of our resources and we must show creativity in finding new, innovative, lower-cost means for delivery of degree programs.

As I mentioned earlier, the USM is taking major steps to reduce costs. As a result, the portion of the USM budget shortfall over the past two years that has been covered by increased efficiency, cost savings, and cost avoidance is 62% . . . . with the remaining 38% covered by tuition hikes. I know that Montgomery College is engaged in this same sort of rigorous and systematic examination of cost saving measures that do not impact the quality of education. The public needs to be assured that we recognize the new realities of our economic circumstances and that we are taking steps to optimize available resources. This is essential if we are to have any hope of regaining former levels of public support.

However, we all know that there is only so much that can be accomplished with cost containment if we are to maintain quality. That is why our efforts to find innovative and cost-effective delivery approaches are so critical. In this arena, our community collegesand Montgomery College most especiallyare vital. For one thing, people are almost always amazed when they learn that students who complete their community college degrees are guaranteed admission to each and every USM institution. Moreover transfer students, especially those from Montgomery College, tend to do just as well as "native" students. In some sense they do "better" because the overall cost of their four-year degree is considerably reduced.

To emphasize my point, let me give you the transfer numbers for Montgomery College last year. Over 6,650 students transferred to four-year institutions. That is remarkable. And while many stayed in-state--with nearly 2,000 moving to UMCP--all in all 492 different four-year institutions in 48 states now have Montgomery College transfer students.

But the innovation at Montgomery College and the USM goes far beyond traditional transfers. Through a partnership with the Universities at Shady Grove, students can earn a Bachelor's Degree from a University System of Maryland institution in more than a dozen different curriculum options without ever leaving Montgomery County. From a Biological Sciences degree from UMCP to an Education degree from Towson. From an Information Systems degree from UMBC to a Nursing degree from UMB. This was precisely the impact we envisioned when the Universities at Shady Grove was created in partnership with Montgomery College. Eight separate USM institutions under one roof to deliver lower-cost access to a range of different USM programs selected to meet high student demand in areas. This overwhelming success of this model, under the leadership of Stew Edelstein, has led us to develop a second such center in Hagerstown.

The leadership of the University of Maryland University College in online education is another great source of innovation. UMUC has entered into a remarkable agreement with most community colleges in Maryland. This agreement guarantees students enrolling in the community college that if they complete the two-year college curriculum, they can complete a four-year degree from UMUC right there at the community college, drawing upon UMUC's online and on-site course delivery capabilities. All of this is accomplished at a greatly reduced cost in comparison with having these students transfer to a residential campus. Through this arrangement, students can enroll simultaneously in the community college and UMUC when they begin their post-secondary education. In fact, UMUC has just developed a biotechnology degree in partnership with Montgomery College to address workforce shortages in the high-tech, bio-tech and info-tech fields.

Taken together, Community Colleges, Shady Grove and UMUC each represent a huge boost in our efforts to both serve the needs of the state and protect the quality of our existing campuses. And the leadership of Montgomery College in making the most of the potential that exists within this framework is a model for other institutions to follow. Our collective efforts demonstrate to the state that we are doing our part. We are seeking out new strategies to find lower cost models for providing higher education degrees. Indeed, no state in the Union can match Maryland's array of innovative, lower cost alternative routes to a higher education degree.

I will conclude my comments with an observation. Overcoming the challenges we face in higher education will require a true partnership among our higher education institutions, state and local government, and the body politic, a partnership that must begin with the acknowledgement that a highly educated citizenry is -- most definitely -- a common good and it merits a substantial investment of public funds. We must work cooperatively with leaders in Annapolis to once again find the means to insure access to high quality collegiate experiences for a bulging new generation of qualified students. Nothing less than the future well being of our state is at stake. We in higher education are doing our part. Now it is time for our state leaders to do theirs.