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When the Numbers Don't Add Up

 

November 12, 2004

UB Viewpoint - When the Numbers Don’t Add Up

By ROBERT L. BOGOMOLNY
Special to the Daily Record

First, the good news: The most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures list Maryland as the nation’s second most affluent state, ranking behind only New Jersey in median household income. Even better, this represents a move from the state’s previous fifth-place ranking. At a time of uneven economic growth and national belt-tightening, Maryland continues to enhance its image as home to a highly educated and prosperous work force.

Now, the inevitable flip side: The data also indicates that 20.6 percent of Baltimore residents live in poverty. The gulf between the haves and have-nots widens even as the state prospers. Add to this the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s recent report giving Maryland an "F" for the affordability of higher education, and the picture of an increasingly stratified society becomes even sharper.

Maryland’s colleges and universities can and should be integral partners in reversing this trend, especially in the cities. The engaged public urban university inherits from the land-grant college a commitment to employ its teaching, service and research to the benefit of its surrounding community. Solutions to modern urban issues require input across academic disciplines and from numerous sectors of society. The truly engaged university forges real partnerships, recognizing that knowledge resides in community group meetings as well as in college classrooms.

These partnerships can take many forms. UB Provost Wim Wiewel recently announced the Baltimore Renaissance Scholars Seed Fund, which aims to support new projects that join University of Baltimore faculty and students with the greater Baltimore community.

Last year, the university created the City Fellows Program, which awards six scholarships annually to city employees for graduate work in criminal justice, public administration and business. This year, the university extended the program to include the Baltimore City Public School System. Baltimore’s Old Mutual Financial Network further strengthened this collaboration with initial corporate sponsorship. In this instance, the university, city government and the business sector partner to contribute to Baltimore’s renewal.

Innovative partnerships reach beyond the classroom. Last month, UB issued "UB Midtown," a request for proposals to develop its surface lots in midtown. The goal is to create landmark development in Baltimore’s midtown through public-private partnerships, resulting in mixed-use residential and retail space connecting Penn Station, the emerging arts district and Bolton Hill. The university already has begun a dialogue with community leaders and will continue to engage with all stakeholders to create development that enhances both the university’s mission and the economic and cultural vitality of midtown Baltimore.

Likewise, the state’s "F" in affordability can only be rectified through extensive collaborations. The University System of Maryland recently submitted to the General Assembly a report on effectiveness and efficiency, exploring ways to best serve increasing state enrollment. Today’s challenges require us to rethink traditional models and learn from national trends.

For example, targeted partnerships have proven more effective than have large-scale mergers in meeting ever-changing workplace and enrollment demands; bigger does not always equal better. At the same time, we must broaden our definition of national eminence to include the creation of a state system that meets its residents’ needs with flexibility and innovation — that would be true eminence.

Much of the projected enrollment increase will come from those segments of the population that most need and benefit from public education: first-generation college students, recent immigrants and adult learners needing new or enhanced job skills. It is incumbent on all of us — educators, politicians, business and civic leaders — to address an equation that grows more unbalanced every year: increased demand for seats in our college classrooms coupled with decreased state support for those seats. Currently we balance that equation by curtailing services and raising costs to students and parents. As a result, we are squeezing out the very people whom public education exists to serve. We contribute to the widening gap between the haves and have-nots: Not only do the rich get richer, but only the rich get smarter.

One of the greatest pieces of legislation in our history was the GI Bill, through which the nation responded to changing times by opening the academy doors to returning World War II veterans. Results included stronger universities, a developed community college system and an invigorated, more inclusive, productive society. Our nation’s colleges and universities, long the bedrock of the American Dream, came to embody the ideal that, through hard work, one has the opportunity to transform one’s life.

The GI Bill helped turn that dream into a reality for millions of Americans. But every generation must create its own dream. Those who follow us will be affected by the vision we create. They will add up the numbers — of wealth, poverty and access to the right and privilege of public higher education — and determine whether our dream was made available to all. They will judge us by the result.

 

Robert L. Bogomolny is the president of the University of Baltimore. Experts from the university write a weekly column for The Daily Record on a broad range of topics. The opinions expressed are their own.