Dear Commons Community,
The University of Maryland University College (UMUC), suffering from recent enrollment declines, is considering converting itself into a private nonprofit institution. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):
“Backers of the privatization plan, which would entail some level of independence from the University System of Maryland, say it would give the institution, known as UMUC, more flexibility in marketing and personnel, and help it compete with up-and-comers like Southern New Hampshire University and Arizona State University.
While many in the university question the need for such a radical move—last month UMUC wrapped up the last of eight meetings where faculty and staff members were invited to air their concerns before the university’s president recommends next steps—a close look at the data illustrates why some at the distance-education powerhouse fear for its future.
UMUC built its reputation as an affordable institution that served military personnel overseas. For more than four decades those enrollments helped it to flourish. That identity is evident at the university’s headquarters, where three clocks hanging prominently in the lobby are labeled “Europe,” “Asia,” and “Adelphi, Maryland.”
“Until the end of the Cold War, we were an overseas institution with a Maryland component,” says Javier Miyares, its president.
Then, in the latter half of the 1990s, as the United States was drawing down its troops overseas, UMUC became one of the first major universities outside the for-profit sector to embrace online education. As quickly as its overseas headcount was falling—quicker, actually—its domestic enrollments took off.
“Now we’re a stateside university with an overseas component,” says Mr. Miyares.
That shift did not come painlessly. From August 2012 to August of this year, UMUC consolidated managerial operations overseas and laid off more than half of its administrators in Europe and Asia, bringing the number to 99 from 205. It cut full-time faculty members at almost the same rate, from 199 to 114. Perhaps just as telling for a university where most courses are taught by adjunct professors, the proportion of those instructors based overseas who teach face-to-face and hybrid classes has shrunk over the past five years, even as the overall number of adjuncts has increased.”
UMUC was one of the major innovators in the early days of the development of online learning programs It remains to be seen whether a move to independent status will revive its position and enrollment in an increasingly crowded and competitive field.