Town attracting satellite campuses Area's demographics draw universities to serve suburbs

July 08, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Columbia may not have any four-year universities or colleges, but it quietly is becoming a hub of higher education in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Extension programs from downtown universities and colleges now allow Columbians to enroll in programs ranging from business management classes to master's degrees in education -- part of a national trend of higher education moving to serve the suburbs.

The latest entrant into Columbia's education marketplace is the University of Baltimore, which will open a satellite center in the fall to offer a master's program in public administration.

"We looked at a lot of census data and the demographics of the population, and it just made sense," said Larry Thomas, executive director of the University of Baltimore's School of Public Affairs, which will run the Columbia classes. "The demand is there, and we think we can create new demand."

The university will join a number of other programs that have been located in Columbia since the early 1970s, including Howard Community College, the Traditional Acupuncture Institute and suburban campuses of the Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College. All four continue to grow in enrollment.

"The universities have decided that Howard County's market is a perfect place to expand their education programs, and that in turn helps us," said Richard W. Story, executive director of Howard County's Economic Development Authority.

"It's becoming a very rich climate for educational programs, and that's something we can use to promote the county to prospective businesses," he said.

A growing number of downtown colleges and universities across the country -- particularly those with programs oriented to working professionals -- are opening centers in suburbs as they seek to attract more part-time students, according to the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business in St. Louis.

Columbia's attractions include an educated population that keeps seeking more education and its central location between Baltimore and Washington that makes it convenient to part-time students from throughout the area.

At the Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Studies' Columbia Center, 6740 Alexander Bell Drive, only 25 percent of the approximately 1,200 students live in Howard County, said Michelle B. Glassburn, assistant director of the center. Most of the rest live in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Frederick counties, but some come from as far away as Pennsylvania and northern Virginia.

"It's much easier to come out here than anywhere else," said Tim Dixon, 35, of Laurel, a second-grade teacher in Prince George's County who is working toward a master's degree at Johns Hopkins. "I never have to go to the main campus. It's all right here."

What's kept so many different programs successful in Columbia is that each has carved its own niche, program directors say.

For example, the Johns Hopkins and Loyola programs both primarily offer graduate degrees in business and education to attract area teachers and business professionals, but they differ in the types of courses they offer. Meanwhile, the University of Baltimore program will be geared toward employees of government and nonprofit corporations.

"Each school has a particular kind of educational product," said Francis McGuire, director of graduate services at Loyola. "The competition in Columbia is no different than what we see in the city with so many schools nearby."

Loyola and Hopkins also offer specialized instruction at their Columbia centers. For example, Loyola's programs in speech pathology and pastoral counseling are in Columbia, and Hopkins plans to begin a program allowing 25 to 30 undergraduate business students to complete their final two years of study in Columbia.

Meanwhile, the community college recently opened a center of specialized instruction for business professionals and others seeking more training in such subjects as computers and management, and the acupuncture institute trains a growing number of students seeking to become licensed acupuncturists.

Even a university that left Columbia several years ago did so despite growing enrollment. Towson State University closed its 7-year-old Columbia campus in 1991 because of budget cutbacks at the school, not declining interest in its programs.

Colleges and universities aren't the only programs coming to Columbia. A national technical training school -- Lincoln Technical Institute -- recently announced plans to open a 73,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art center on Snowden River Parkway.

The company hopes to open its Columbia center for classes by Nov. 1 and eventually will close its two schools in Baltimore and Landover.

The instruction will include classes in air-conditioning work, automotive technology, medical office administration and office automation, said Larry Brown, executive vice president of Lincoln Tech in West Orange, N.J.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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