Schools eye University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as a model for educating diverse student bodies

Founded in 1963 as a commuter school, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), has since transformed itself into a “science and technology powerhouse” widely admired for its approach to educating underprivileged students of color, the Boston Globe reports. About half of the school’s 14,000 students are people of color, and the university now graduates more Black M.D.-Ph.D.s than any other U.S. school.

UMBC specializes in science and engineering, a focused approach that has enabled it to create a strong pathway for students from college to graduate programs and careers; 88 percent of undergraduate students who earned their degree in 2017 are employed or pursuing graduate degrees. The school’s undergraduate graduation rate is roughly equivalent across all races and ethnicities, hovering around 65 percent.

Key ingredients: faculty trust, regional ties, state and private support

Observers credit much of UMBC’s success to the strategic leadership of its president Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who has led the school for 25 years and often advises other college presidents seeking to replicate UMBC’s trajectory.

Inclusivity is one hallmark of Hrabowski’s approach. He “builds…trust on his campus, and across Maryland, by preaching his gospel of equal opportunity excellence in an egalitarian tone that makes professors and students eager to join him,” the Globe writes. UMBC faculty note his openness to innovation and experimentation and say “shared governance is huge at UMBC.”

Situated minutes away from Baltimore and an hour from Washington, D.C., UMBC has also nurtured strong regional ties. The university encourages professors to help in the local communities and schools, and Hrabowski has engaged nearby businesses and government agencies, emphasizing “that UMBC is vital to the region’s success.”

The message has resonated with state legislators, who this year increased Maryland’s higher education funding by 4.3 percent. “The state feels that it is important to support higher education, in particular in the case of UMBC,” Adrienne Jones—Maryland House speaker pro tempore and UMBC graduate—told the Globe, adding that “we see that as a link to the economy of the state and a well-educated workforce.”

Private support has been similarly crucial. A 1988 gift from philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff enabled Hrabowski to launch the Meyerhoff Scholars program, which awards scholarships to promising students of color looking to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. According to the Globe, the program has since “become an international model for the advancement of diversity” in those fields.

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