University of Baltimore to be 4-year institution

Regents board approves adding freshmen, sophomores in 2006

April 09, 2005|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

For the first time since becoming a public college three decades ago, the University of Baltimore will start accepting freshmen and sophomores next year under an expansion of its academic mission approved yesterday by the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents.

The move is part of a continuing effort by the university system to make better use of its facilities as it contends with an enrollment surge brought on by the demographic trend known as the "baby boom echo," as well as by the growing popularity of the system's institutions.

By expanding to offer the full four years of undergraduate education, the University of Baltimore will make fuller use of buildings, many of which now sit empty during the day because most students attend classes in the evening, officials said yesterday.

This, in turn, will help the system absorb at least part of the state's enrollment growth without the cost of additional construction, system Chancellor William E. Kirwan said after the unanimous regents' vote.

"It's an ideal opportunity for both of us to make better use of the facilities," he said. "And in addition, ... it's doing something important for the [college] by making it a complete university. It has enormous potential to serve the city and the state as a full, four-year campus."

The university on the edge of Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood has for years occupied an unusual niche in the state's university system: offering the final two years of undergraduate study to students who took their first two years at a community college or a four-year college. The university also operates business and law schools.

By switching to a four-year college -- a change that other "upper-division" urban colleges and universities around the country have also made in recent years -- the university will expand opportunities for area students, said university President Robert L. Bogomolny. "It adds a sense of clarity to our mission," he said.

The university plans to offer admission to about 250 students as freshmen and sophomores in 2006 before gradually increasing the number to 350. Because the university does not have dormitories, it will continue to rely on commuter students, though Bogomolny said it might eventually consider building dorms.

Bogomolny said the university expects that it will continue to attract the same mix of recent high school graduates and older students it does now and that it will continue to draw career-minded students interested in the university's strengths: communications, forensic science, business and law.

For these reasons, the president said, he didn't think the university would compete directly with more traditional four-year public colleges such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Towson University.

"Because all of us [colleges] are a little different, it's an enlargement of choice," he said. "People will self-select."

The university's shift comes at a time when it, like other colleges in the state, has been contending with a decline in the number of students transferring from community colleges. This drop in the university's target audience caused a dip in enrollment during the past decade, but Bogomolny said that it has rebounded this year to more than 5,000, including the professional schools.

The demographic increase in college-age students is expected to ebb around 2012, but Kirwan said the system was not concerned that creating another four-year college would lead to overcapacity in the future.

"I'm not sure if even after this baby-boom echo works its way trough the system that any of us are anticipating a huge drop in interest in higher education," he said. "It is something we have to continue to monitor, but the more immediate and urgent need is to develop strategies to serve more and more students."

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