Umbc Shrinks School Of Aging

Amid Budget Difficulties, Staff And Faculty Reduced For Institution That Trains Students To Care For Elderly

April 15, 2009|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has laid off most of the staff of its Erickson School of aging studies and reduced the number of professors because of declining philanthropic support and slower-than-expected growth, officials said Tuesday.

The Erickson School is unusual in that it receives no continuing state funding. Revenue comes from donations, and tuition and program fees. But the economic downturn has slowed philanthropy, and companies aren't spending as much as they used to on continuing education for their employees.

In response, the school laid off nine of its 11 staff members Monday and is reducing the number of full-time faculty from six to four. The school will remain open. It enrolls 346 undergraduates and 28 master's students. The master's students will finish their program this year, but it is yet to be determined whether a new master's class will begin in the fall.

"This is really only a change in the pace of the work," said UMBC spokeswoman Lisa Akchin. "We were at a stage where we were being very aggressive in ramping up capacity to build enrollment, and the economic conditions are really not a fit for that now."

The school was created with a $5 million gift from the Erickson Foundation, an affiliate of Catonsville-based Erickson Retirement Communities, which has its own financial difficulties. The company, which operates communities in 11 states, laid off 260 employees in January. An Erickson spokesman, Mel Tansill, said Tuesday that the Erickson Foundation has not given any more to the school beyond that initial gift.

Akchin said company founder John C. Erickson has "continued to be supportive not only through his philanthropy but in connecting us with others in the field of aging services."

She said UMBC is re-examining the design of the master's program but remains committed to the school itself. It was created in 2004 with the Erickson grant and a matching one from the state to train a new generation of workers to meet the needs of America's aging population.

"We saw this as a career really for our times," Akchin said. "With the aging of the baby boom population and the work force demands in all fields, this is a population that's going to affect banking, entertainment, travel."

But she said the rapid enrollment growth the school was expecting - and the corresponding influx of tuition money - has not completely materialized.

In an e-mail message to the UMBC community Monday, officials emphasized that the steps it is taking at the Erickson School "are very different" from the approach being taken universitywide to address budget constraints. State support, in part, makes it possible to minimize the impact on staff and faculty in other parts of the university, officials said.

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