Growing higher education

Our view: Expansion plans at USM are ambitious but worthy

April 23, 2008

The University System of Maryland has an ambitious plan to increase enrollment over the next decade. It anticipates about 22,700 more undergraduates and nearly 10,000 more graduate students by 2017 - a 23 percent and 25 percent increase, respectively, over current enrollments. That will challenge state officials to provide adequate funding and university officials to work harder to recruit and retain a future pool of students that is expected to be a lot more diverse and a lot less familiar with higher education.

The end of the echo baby boom generation helps explain a 16 percent increase in applications for next fall's freshman class at the University of Maryland, College Park and strong growth in applications elsewhere in the system. Those numbers are expected to level off soon, as is the number graduating from high school in the state. But more of those graduates are expected to go to college, more are expected to come from minority groups and more are expected to be the first in their families to attend college.

They will require additional classrooms and instructors, especially at the designated growth campuses of Salisbury University, Bowie State University and Towson University. Another designated growth site, the online University of Maryland University College, can add more students without much infrastructure. Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly have wisely dedicated funding to help pay for many of the operating costs tied to increased enrollment. And university officials have also been prudent in creating partnerships with private developers to supply more housing.

What officials must also be sure to provide in the next decade are services to ensure that recruits who are less familiar with the college experience get adequate advice and support to complete their degrees.

All these investments are crucial to the success of the university system's expansion plans - and to the state's ability to maintain its elevated economic status.

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