Collegetown, U.S.A.

October 25, 1996|By Judy Jolley Mohraz

VISITORS COMING into Worcester, Massachusetts, driv past a billboard that reads, ''Every one of America's great cities has at least one institution of higher education. Worcester has 10.''

Baltimore has 22. Yet when the discussion turns to U.S. cities noted for excellence in higher education, Baltimore rarely comes to mind. This is unfortunate. With the creation of the Baltimore Collegetown Network, however, it is about to change.

Baltimore's colleges and universities are a diverse group, including research universities, liberal-arts colleges, community colleges and specialty institutions, among others. We collectively enroll more than 100,000 students, employ 40,000 members of the work force and create jobs for an additional 70,000 or more.

We educate the citizenry, enrich Baltimore's cultural life and involve ourselves deeply in efforts ranging from developing new industries to improving the lives of the city's disadvantaged. Each college is distinct, with its own mission. But increasingly we recognize the benefits -- to ourselves and the community -- of working together.

A history of collaboration

Collaboration between colleges is not a new concept. Students at Goucher and Johns Hopkins have taken courses on each other's campuses for years, and we are two of eight area colleges participating in a reciprocal course-exchange program. UMBC's 12-college Shriver Center consortium mobilizes the colleges' community-service resources for youth mentoring .

programs, urban development and other metropolitan needs.

Less formal collaboration also occurs. Caught in the throes of a harsh Baltimore winter, Towson State needed salt for campus thruways. Loyola, down the road, had plenty of salt, but not enough trucks to spread it. Towson was flush in trucks, and a collaboration was born.

Emerging from this spirit of creative opportunism and mutual benefit is the Baltimore Collegetown Network, formed last summer to bring about greater collaboration and resource sharing among all 22 colleges in the Baltimore area. Our aim is both to strengthen the colleges and to promote and support the city of Baltimore. It is an ambitious undertaking, perhaps unprecedented in scope.

In a short time, we are already seeing results. Ten of the members have formed a library network which allows students at one college to borrow from any in the group. The libraries are also doing shared collection building, making it less necessary for each library to offer every new book or resource. Group negotiation is on the agenda, as we recognize that our collective buying power will result in providing better services at lower prices. Shared faculty and staff development is in the works.

With the project still in its infancy, good communication -- among the colleges and with the metropolitan area -- is vital. Our chief means of communicating what we do and how we connect with the city is the World Wide Web. Visitors to our web site -- it's at http: //www.colltown.org -- can learn what's happening on campus, see what's at Baltimore's theaters and museums, check out the Orioles schedule and find a good restaurant. Or they can read the latest news in The Daily Nose, an on-line '' 'zine'' conceived and written by Baltimore-area college students.

So how can Collegetown help Baltimore? For students, collaboration broadens educational opportunity while controlling cost. At a time when students and parents are demanding more of higher education while being justifiably concerned about its cost, Collegetown pools a rich array of resources, making for cost-effective delivery of high-quality, option-laden education. As prospective students come to recognize Baltimore as a college town, more will come here, learn, graduate, get jobs, pay taxes, raise families and become engaged in their communities.

And strong colleges help the economy. Years ago a Brookings Institution study found that nearly half of U.S. economic growth from 1929 to 1969 was attributable to ''advances in knowledge'' and ''increased education of the work force.'' With the transformation to a knowledge-age, information-based economy, education's significance has increased in the years since.

Indeed, in 1991 the Greater Baltimore Committee noted: ''Gone are the days when a small number of highly educated people could supervise large numbers of willing but unskilled factory workers. In today's world, a community must educate all its people.''

Education is what colleges do best. And Collegetown can help us do it better.

Judy Jolley Mohraz is president of Goucher College.

Pub Date: 10/25/96

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