Board of Regents approves 10-year strategy for state universities

Plan calls for 45,000 more students, doubled research funding by 2020

December 03, 2010|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

The state university system will attempt to add 45,000 students, hand out 10,000 more degrees annually and double its research funding to more than $2 billion by 2020, according to a new strategic plan approved Friday by the Board of Regents.

Under the 10-year plan, the system will also attempt to convert more of its research into industry, churn out 40 percent more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, and redesign introductory courses so fewer students drop out.

"It's a very focused set of goals and initiatives bringing all of our assets to bear on the state's most pressing needs," said Chancellor William E. Kirwan.

Kirwan cast the plan as a response to growing problems in American higher education. The U.S. led the world in high school and college completion rates 30 years ago but now ranks 23rd in high school completion and 10th in college completion.

"I'm not an apocalyptic kind of guy," Kirwan said. "But I feel a sense of crisis developing in our country around the education gap. We're moving in the wrong direction. We're not educating people at the rate we were decades ago."

The regents and several university presidents raved about the plan, which has been under development since October 2009.

Robert L. Caret, president of Towson University, praised the plan's practicality and said universities are already working to address its themes.

"It's a plan that helps the state solve its issues," Caret said.

State leaders will respond well to the plan's emphasis on using the system to drive economic growth, predicted Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The plan is more an outline of goals than a description of specific actions. In response to its themes, each of the system's universities will develop a "business plan" by mid-January. At the end of January, Kirwan will present a blueprint for action to the regents. They will then hear annual updates on how the system is living up to its goals.

The first of the plan's five broad goals is for 55 percent of Marylanders to complete either a two- or four-year college degree, up from 44 percent now. Some of the recommended approaches include: increasing outreach to minorities and underserved geographic areas; expanding online course offerings; and improving reciprocal relationships with community colleges.

To meet the 55 percent goal, the system will need to add 30,000 students in the next five years and another 15,000 in the five years after that, the plan says. The system now serves 150,000 students at its 11 universities.

Kirwan said much of that growth will happen at the Web-based University of Maryland, University College. But he said it's also important that the system change the composition of its graduates by emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM). Growth in those areas is more likely to happen at the University of Maryland, College Park and UMBC, the chancellor said.

The plan calls for increases in state-supported scholarships and tuition waivers to draw more students to the STEM disciplines.

The second major theme of the plan calls for the doubling of research funding and ramped-up efforts to convert research into commercial business. Specific goals include adding 1 million square feet of research space, creating 325 new companies and five research centers around the state, and tripling the number of teachers certified in STEM areas.

"We do a huge volume of research," Kirwan said. "But we are very middle-of-the-pack in taking the knowledge we've created and transforming it to economic gain."

Each university will be asked to include economic development in its core goals. Faculty and staff will be rewarded for converting research into commercial business, the plan says.

The plan's third theme calls for course redesign and increased online education. Universities will be asked to agree on core expectations for what students should know and be able to do.

The plan's final two themes call for continued efforts to make the system more efficient and for increased spending on faculty salaries and facilities to keep the universities competitive with peers in other states. It calls for up to $600 million in spending on new capital projects over the next five years.

The plan makes it clear that many of the system's goals are predicated on increased funding, which might be hard to come by in the current economic climate. But Kirwan said he hopes that revenue from slot machine gambling will help.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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