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USMH continues to make progress on enrollment, scholarship issues

December 13, 2008

"For the second straight fall, enrollment at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown has increased by 15 percent." As a musician who made a living performing and teaching, I hear this opening sentence of a recent Herald-Mail article and it is music to my ears! It is the culmination of four years of growing pains in order to broaden higher education opportunities for local students.

The University System of Maryland at Hagerstown (USMH) officially turned four years old last month. It was Nov. 11, 2004, when the construction of the new facility reached substantial completion and we were given the keys to the building. I'll never forget the excitement of that day. We became the proud owners of a bold, new initiative to expand higher education in Washington County.

The project had been controversial from the start. There was the issue of choosing the proper site for the facility.

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The state planned to fund the center, but still had to allocate the funds and determine the cost of operating. Frostburg State University had to shift from a satellite campus on Public Square to a management institution for a facility offering programs from three different institutions. In the end, all parties cooperated to make the vision a reality and the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown was born.

When we opened to 382 students on Jan. 5, 2005, three universities were offering 12 academic programs. Today, six universities offer 19 programs, and with approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), we will begin offering the first doctoral degree in Washington County's history in 2009. This semester, we enrolled 455 students - a 15 percent increase over last fall's headcount and a 19.1 percent increase compared to our first semester.

While the numbers alone are encouraging when they are drilled down, they point to additional growth indicators. For example, our current full-time equivalency (FTE) is 115.3 - an increase of 14.3 percent over last fall and a 47 percent increase when compared to the opening semester.

When FTE grows faster than headcount, it means that students are taking more classes. This is possible because we have been able to bring some full-time programs in the last four years, as well as add classes to the part-time programs. Students are able to complete their degrees more quickly, if they so choose.

Dissecting the headcount numbers reveals that what started as an initiative to offer graduate programs to working adults, now boasts nearly 50 percent enrollment in undergraduate programs. In light of the tough economy, affordable opportunities at the bachelor's level are crucial to increase the college-going rate.

The addition of seven programs in four years may seem a snail's pace to some, but the process is rigorous, and we have been careful to bring programs that are needed and can be sustained in the area.

It is also important to note that three of our new programs - nursing, social work and education (at the bachelor's level) - address fields that are experiencing workforce shortages across the nation.

We are increasing affordability by offering scholarship money to local students. Our 2008 Elizabethtowne Feaste and Frolic fundraiser brought in $25,000 to be awarded to 10 students as $2,500 scholarships to use during the 2009 academic year.

We expect to offer additional scholarships in 2011 when the $212,500 that we have raised becomes $425,000 through a match by the Waltersdorf/Henson Matching Campaign.

Our success has not been a solo effort - we have had a symphony of support. Our advisory board, the local business community, local elected officials and students and faculty all came to our aid when our budget was in jeopardy.

Many volunteers made our opening celebration fundraiser and two scholarship fundraisers successful. Our partner institutions have worked to streamline their programs and make them accessible to local students.

While we are encouraged by our progress, it is only a prelude. It is our mission to bring more programs that will benefit both students and the community.

As we continue to grow, I hope to hear the celebratory sounds of a chorus of students graduating from programs offered at USMH with the education and skills needed to improve their lives and make positive contributions to the community.

C. David Warner III, Ed.D.

executive director

University System of Mar.land at Hagerstown

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