UMBC turns 30 Quantum leap: Mid-sized public research university now draws high-achieving students.

September 14, 1996

HOW MANY universities show more interest in their nationally rated chess club than the football team? That's the way it is these days at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, an institution that turned 30 this week, but which already has big ambitions for the next three decades.

It didn't start that way. UMBC came into being through a political power play by Baltimore County's lone state senator in those days, James A. Pine, who needed to fortify his support in the west-end. Thus, a campus of the University of Maryland was planted in Catonsville.

That campus now has 10,500 students, but these aren't ordinary students. UMBC is drawing some of the best young minds in Maryland. Top performing high schoolers, especially those drawn to the sciences, are showing up in Catonsville. UMBC tied with the College Park campus in 1995 for top SAT scores among public institutions in Maryland; UMBC's top quartile easily bests any other public campus.

The transformation from a middling campus with potential to an institution with a quality faculty and student body began under Michael K. Hooker, now chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His successor, Freeman A. Hrabowski, has upped the ante -- and the energy level -- considerably. UMBC is focusing on its strengths in biotechnology, information technology and public policy to gain national recognition.

It offers an unusual linkage between research and an undergraduate education. And it is actively seeking partnerships with businesses in its areas of strength. The result has been a tripling of research grants in six years, a surge in bright students and a young but well-regarded faculty. As for UMBC's chronic dropout and retention problems, Dr. Hrabowski helped solve that by tightening admissions, emphasizing study groups and tutorial programs and putting on a full-court press for high-achieving minority students.

UMBC has a way to go to make its assets appreciated inside and outside the state. But with its emphasis on brainy science students, its new technology center, its plans for a large research park and growing ties to start-up and established high-tech and computer companies, UMBC is clearly a campus on the move.

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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