Chancellor's Speeches

Remarks of USM Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan
"Our USM Campus"
Washington County Chamber of Commerce
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Thank you. I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday. It is a pleasure for me to begin 2004 with a visit to Hagerstown to update you on the future of the Hagerstown Education Center. I know the Chamber has been a very strong supporter of this initiative. It is clear that the active involvement of the business community-men and women who recognize the vital role this Center will play in educating our young people and energizing local workforce development-has been a driving force behind this project. As many of you know, last Summer I had a "guest column" in the Herald-Mail. I thank Bob Maginnis for giving me that opportunity. I addition to giving a brief up-date as to the status of the Center, I issued a call for greater community involvement in support of the Center. I said that what was needed at this time was a "true groundswell of support". Well, we got that and more. This organization, the Greater Hagerstown Committee, and concerned individuals launched letter writing campaigns targeting top state official in support of this project. And, of course, the Herald-Mail continued to beat the drum of support. I once again thank you all for your commitment to this initiative. As I also noted in my column last Summer, the USM is deeply committed to establishing this regional center as a 21sty century model for undergraduate and graduate education. We envision the Hagerstown Education Center as a hub of teaching, learning, and economic development that will have an enormously positive impact on Hagerstown, Washington County, and the State of Maryland. Our efforts together will bring the vision of a high-quality, higher education center serving the needs of this region to life. I'd like to divide my comments up into essentially three sections. First, I will talk about the status of the Hagerstown Education Center, both the physical structure and the programmatic aspects. Second, I will move into the broader vision the USM has for the future of this campus and what it will mean for this community. Finally, I will discuss how the Hagerstown Education Center fits into the overall USM structure and how, in many ways, it represents the future of the System. Of course, I will try to leave ample time for discussion as well. The Renovation of the Baldwin House Complex-a beautiful historic building that is being restored to maintain its beauty-is moving along nicely. The project is on budget and on schedule. The environmental abatement, demolition and structural repairs are now complete. The interior rebuilding of the Baldwin House is underway, along with additional exterior restoration. Completion is slated for November of this year, with occupancy on track for Spring of 2005. At our most recent meeting with the various parties involved in this project-the USM, the City of Hagerstown, the State of Maryland, and the Design Team-there was an overall feeling of excitement about the center and satisfaction with the progress we are making. On the issue of Management, several important steps have been taken or are underway. Perhaps one of the most important actions is the fact that Dr. Gertrude Eaton, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the USM, will oversee academic development of the Hagerstown Center. Dr. Eaton did this same job for the USM with the Shady Grove Center. By any measure, the Universities at Shady Grove has been a stunningly successful effort. Shady Grove is growing beyond all expectations. What Shady Grove is to Montgomery County, the Hagerstown Education Center will be for Hagerstown. With Dr. Eaton at the helm, a search committee has been formed to hire an Executive Director of the Hagerstown Center through Frostburg State University. FSU will perform and oversee many campus functions, saving the System the cost of creating an admissions office, a registrar's office, etc. As you know, FSU has operated a Hagerstown Center for some time. Current enrollment at the FSU Center stands at 422 students in undergraduate and graduate programs offered by FSU and 15 students earning an RN to BSN degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. UMB also offers a few graduate nursing courses and UMUC offers accounting courses. All these programs will of course move to the new HEC when it is complete. We are grateful to FSU for taking on this important responsibility. Already FSU and USM have developed an implementation plan that marks out major activities over the next 15-18 months. FSU and USM signed a Memorandum of Understanding delineating the responsibilities of the coordinating institution and other institutions offering programs at the HEC. Our goal is to offer degree programs in areas that are identified by residents as "critical" for the region. New programs-particularly upper division undergraduate programs-are expected to begin in fall 2005. In addition, graduate courses, certificate programs, training opportunities and a variety of credit and non-credit classes will be offered. We have also established a partnership with Hagerstown Community College to provide upper-division courses for community college graduates. Simply put, students will be able to move seamlessly from an Associates Degree and transition into the last two years of a four-year program provided by a participating USM institution. At this point, we anticipate that in Academic Year 2005- 2006, programs will be offered by FSU, UMUC, UMB and possibly, Towson University. Both TU and FSU offer bachelor of technical/professional studies in a number of fields, which will provide excellent continuing education opportunities to the workforce in the area. I know that right now, our focus is on securing the necessary funds to bring the Hagerstown Education Center on- line and bring the USM institutions into the mix. I don't want to underplay the importance of these efforts. Strong state and local support are essential for the success of this center. Given the status of Maryland's budget these days, we need to keep the heat on to maintain our commitments. But I want to take a moment to look beyond that . . . to look at what this center will really mean for Hagerstown and Washington County. A few years ago, the USM established a single facility in another underserved region of our state: The University at Shady Grove in Montgomery County. Eight separate USM institutions have come together in this location-under one roof-to deliver low cost access to a range of different USM programs selected to meet high student demand in areas such as biosciences, information sciences, business, nursing, and education. Each participating institution provides top faculty and academic support services to in this center, who earn their degrees from the institution offering the program. This effort has been both very successful and very well-received. This effort has the ancillary benefit of showcasing the true value of having a University System to coordinate and administer such efforts. I envision this same type of success for the Hagerstown Center. Its mere presence in downtown Hagerstown will help drive economic redevelopment downtown. Your children will have access to some of the most popular, most sought-after educational opportunities-provided by the USM institutions that know them best-right here, close to home. Your employees will be able to up-grade their skills and continue their educational efforts. And the entire region will have the ability to emerge as an economic powerhouse as cutting edge educational opportunities in technology, business, and other disciplines become readily available. The fact is, when this center opens in 2005, it will not represent the end of a long and occasionally bumpy journey to bring the USM to Hagerstown. Rather it will represent a new beginning for this city, this county, and this region: An era of educational excellence, of expanded opportunity, of new economic strength, and of full participation in the benefits and impact of Maryland's outstanding University System. I must also acknowledge as Chancellor of the University System that the success of the Hagerstown Educational Center is vitally important to the entire system. Innovative, cost- effective initiatives are essential to the USM as we grapple with two parallel challenges: funding and enrollment. As you all know, higher education funding has be subject to dramatic cuts in recent years. Our state support was reduced by 14% last year, erasing the budget increases of recent years. And we anticipate flat funding at best as we look towards the next legislative session. A decade ago, state support was the largest part of our total budget. Today state support is less than 25% of our budget and is actually the smallest of our three main funding sources, being surpassed by both tuition revenue and research grants. We actually stand at the same state-funding level we did five years ago when we served 8,000 fewer students. The second challenge for higher education is a sharp surge in enrollment demand. Over the next several years, Maryland will see the "baby boom echo" reach college age. Not only will that population cohort be large, but efforts are being undertaken-through efforts like Thornton-to ensure that a greater percentage of theses individuals will be able to move on to college. So we face the prospect of a growing percentage of a growing population expecting to continue their education at a time when public investment in higher education is sharply declining. These two realities -- reduced funding and surging enrollment -- threaten Maryland's colleges and universities, and are in conflict with the overall heightened expectations placed upon our institutions with regard to workforce development and economic impact. Like most systems across the US, Maryland used a combination of spending cuts and tuition increases to address our budget shortfall. These actions were exceedingly difficult and will have a deleterious impact including: the elimination of some 800 positions threatens the quality of our campuses - a standard of quality that has taken years to achieve; class sizes will grow; courses will be cut; support services will diminish; students will be required to pay 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. As bad as these cuts are, the timing is far worse. Maryland is blessed to have a System of higher education that, after decades of effort and investment, is regarded as one of the nation's best. The fact that Maryland's economy has grown stronger and more vibrant in recent years can be directly linked to the investments made in higher education. . Indeed, in the long run, it will be access our higher education institutions and their contributions to advancing knowledge that will ensure a sound economic future and a high quality of life. By cutting that investment now, we are jeopardizing our future economic prosperity. Having said that, I of course recognize that higher education is not an island unto itself, untouched by the economic and political realities of our time. We have an obligation to BOTH enhance quality AND contain costs. We need to be aggressive in finding ways to reduce our costs through increased efficiency and innovative approaches. That is what makes the Hagerstown Education Center so vital for the USM. This center, along with Shady Grove and UMUC-the world leader in on-line education-are positioning the USM as leaders in the "new reality" of higher education: Balancing the rising expectations of citizens who need the benefits of our universities on the one hand and the declining investment of public funds on the other. Our creativity in resolving this conflict will go along way toward determining the success of the USM. Between UMUC and our educational centers, we anticipate that we can accommodate approximately 2/3 of the projected enrollment growth...and at a small fraction of the cost it would take to educate these students at a traditional campus. This will enable us to both address the educational needs of the state and protect the quality of our existing campuses. I look forward to returning is the months ahead as the Hagerstown Education Center nears completion. And look forward to joining you the day we open the doors to this wonderful new jewel of regional education and economic development. I would now like to take any questions you might have.