RAY EHRENSBERGER, who died recently at 92, was a radical visionary in adult education. At a time after World War II when many of America's institutions of higher learning still viewed part-time studies -- particularly in night classes at off-campus locations -- with suspicion and horror, he saw the future potential.
Known as "Big Daddy," he was one of the founders of what today is the University College of the University of Maryland. Over the past 50 years, it has offered courses at American military bases and other installations from the Arctic to Vietnam.
Although University College has opened programs in Montgomery and Charles counties in recent years, it is virtually unknown in its home state. It operates without virtually any state funding. And while its central administrative offices are in Maryland, "a good half of the alumni have not set their feet in College Park," says Julian S. Jones III, a University College vice president.
Dr. Ehrensberger oversaw much of the development of this far-flung academic operation. He spent so much of his time traveling on airplanes that Reader's Digest nicknamed him "The Flying Dean."
In recent years, adult education has become an accepted -- and increasingly profitable -- part of many higher education institutions' mission. That's fairly recent, though. "There was a lot of scorn for people like Ray Ehrensberger in the '40s and '50s, because the time of part-time students hadn't arrived," according to Dr. Jones.
Some 2 million Americans have gone through University College programs since its inception in 1947. They are the best testimony of the worth of Dr. Ehrensberger's vision.
Pub Date: 2/21/97