Education For The Future

Our View: Umbc Should Commit To Rebuild Erickson School Program

April 27, 2009

Declining revenues at the Erickson School of aging studies left University of Maryland, Baltimore County administrators few choices. Despite the increasing need for such expertise in a fast-graying America, the program attracted only a modest number of students and donations were down. Laying off a significant share of its faculty recently may have been a financial necessity in these tough economic times, but it's a shame.

This field has tremendous potential for growth, and the demographics of the country explain why.

The program was created four years ago with a $5 million donation from the Erickson Foundation, an outgrowth of the Catonsville-based company of retirement communities, and a matching state grant. The studies program coincided with a trend of seniors moving from family homes to retirement communities and the aging of the baby boom generation. The eldest of that generation are beginning to reach retirement age, and by 2030, 20 percent of the population will be 65 or older. Maryland has more than 650,000 people 65 or older, and almost 1.5 million people 45 to 64 years old. In addition, the average life expectancy is nearing 80, allowing people to live healthy lives well past retirement.

At the same time, Social Security and Medicare, mainstays of many retirees' income and health needs, are fast facing insolvency. Over the last year, millions of people have watched their 401(k)s shrink, likely forcing some to delay retirement. As the population in Maryland ages, an increasing number of people will need services to manage their finances, uphold their quality of life and ensure proper health care choices. So it is discouraging to see UMBC shrink the Erickson program. If more money is needed to adequately support the school, a development director could direct special fundraising campaigns. Or the school could network with area businesses to create internships and job opportunities, making it more attractive for students. A robust program would not only educate future policymakers and fill the ranks of senior-related careers but also serve as a hub of aging-related research.

UMBC was able to create a well-respected computer science program before the computer technology field skyrocketed. It should set it sights on rebuilding the Erickson program when the economic climate improves.

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