Under the leadership of a new president, UMGC celebrates 75 years of serving adult learners in the workforce and the military—and charts a path forward in the 21st century
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the 2022 issue of Achiever Magazine
By Chip Cassano
University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), founded in 1947, celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2022. University stakeholders reflected with pride on a legacy of innovation and service while—under the leadership of a new president—looking to a future of challenge and opportunity, shaped by shifting demographics, the lingering effects of a global pandemic, and the evolving needs of adult learners in an increasingly technical and ever-changing job market and U.S. military.
The way the university navigates that future will align with its history and hinge—in the words of UMGC President Gregory W. Fowler—“on our willingness to be bold, to learn from failures, accept change, and step forward into new and sometimes uncomfortable circumstances.”
AN INSTITUTION BORN OF NECESSITY
UMGC was born of necessity in an era when both higher education and the country were facing transitional change. In 1940, when the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking educational attainment, only 5 percent of Americans held a college degree. But demand for education—particularly among those 30 years of age or younger—was growing quickly.
At the same time, an increasing number of Black students were seeking access to the country’s still-segregated institutions of higher education.
Colleges and universities were largely unprepared to handle this increased demand, and as the Second World War came to an end, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944—known more commonly as the G.I. Bill—precipitated a crisis, flooding classrooms with military personnel returning to civilian life and seeking opportunity for themselves and their loved ones.
The first edition of UMGC’s official history, Never an Ivory Tower, summarized the impact on Maryland’s state school system.
Between June and September of 1946, enrollments in College Park and Baltimore almost doubled, from a total of just over 6,000 (a peak enrollment up to that time) to more than 11,000 at the beginning of the fall semester. By the end of the 1947–48 academic year, resident collegiate enrollments would top 15,000.
. . . [T]he University of Maryland recognized that it needed not only to increase the number of courses, classrooms, and dormitories for its full-time students on campus, but also to offer courses—both on and off campus—for the large number of “nontraditional” adult students who were working full time or part time and who wanted to take university courses on a part-time basis.
In response, university leaders established a new unit within the College of Education, christening it the College of Special and Continuation Studies (CSCS)—forerunner of today’s UMGC.
Response was immediate and enthusiastic. In its first two years, CSCS would offer more than 250 courses at 27 off-campus centers—including regional military bases and the Pentagon—and enroll 4,391 students. By 1949, it had become an independent college within the University of Maryland, separate from the College of Education.
A GLOBAL CAMPUS
With the rise of the Cold War, it became increasingly clear that America’s military presence overseas represented a new normal. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948, which precipitated the Berlin airlift, and the establishment of NATO helped drive the point home.
At the same time, new military requirements called for officers to have the equivalent of two years of college education to retain their commissions.
The logistical challenges were considerable, and when the U.S. Department of Defense invited institutions of higher education to consider offering courses in Europe, only Maryland’s CSCS responded.
In October of 1949, with just one week’s notice, seven faculty members flew to Germany to open an overseas education program.
David Sparks, the program’s provisional administrator and a future vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Maryland, went overseas with the caveat that if fewer than 300 students enrolled, he was to cancel the program and send everyone home.
More than 1,800 signed up.
The program grew from there, expanding into Asia in 1956 and the Middle East in 2005, ultimately serving students on all seven continents and in war zones in Vietnam, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
AN ONLINE PIONEER
From the first, UMGC’s growth has been driven by student demand, and the university took a pragmatic approach to course delivery, at various times offering instruction by mail, voicemail, email, radio, and public and closed-circuit television—in addition to more traditional, face-to-face instruction. Over time, other student services and library resources were also made available remotely.
In 1994, when the institution piloted its first online coursework, few foresaw the popularity and explosive growth that would follow, but the university was positioned to respond quickly. UMGC became one of the first institutions to offer degree programs fully online, and within a decade, online coursework accounted for almost 80 percent of total enrollments.
It was a trend that then-USM Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg pointed out in a 1995 speech entitled, “Technology: Gateway to [UMGC’s] Future”:
[UMGC] has taken the lead in the University of Maryland System in the areas of distance learning and the educational uses of information technology. Who would have thought—even 10 years ago—that students would be able to attend class, take a test, participate in a study group, confer with a professor, get advice on how to write a term paper, apply for financial aid, or find out about internship possibilities—all while sitting before a computer screen at a time and place that is most convenient for them?
CHARTING A COURSE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY—AND BEYOND
Today, UMGC serves some 90,000 students annually, online and at more than 175 locations in more than 20 countries and territories. It offers 125 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs online or in hybrid or face-to-face formats in high-demand fields like cybersecurity, business, data analytics, biotechnology, health care, and education.
Rising costs, shifting demographics, increasing competition, and declining enrollments present challenges across higher education—challenges that the university’s president addressed directly in his March 2022 inaugural address.
“Today,” Fowler said, “our challenge turns on meeting student needs by designing new learning experiences that align with their goals and objectives—and that rest on a foundation of service and support that is unprecedented, and perhaps unexpected, in higher education, and easily accessible 24/7 across multiple platforms.“
Fowler concluded, “My life is a testimony that in transforming lives, we transform families. And if we can transform families, we can transform communities. If we can transform communities, we can transform nations. And if we can transform nations, we can transform the world.”
UMGCʼS REFRESHED MISSION AND VISION STATEMENTS
In 2022, with a new president at the helm, UMGC convened representatives from across the university—led by Lloyd “Milo” Miles, senior vice president, Global Military Operations, and Chuck Trierweiler, chief marketing officer and senior vice president, Admissions—to revisit and update the university’s mission and vision statements. The objective was to help sharpen and clarify focus on institutional priorities while better articulating the goals and objectives that unify and inspire institutional stakeholders. The following updated mission and vision statements are an outgrowth of that collaborative process.
UMGC MISSION STATEMENT
To inspire hope, empower dreams, and transform lives . . . one student at a time.
UMGC VISION STATEMENT
UMGC will set a new global standard in higher education, defining success in terms of lives, families, and communities transformed. We will
Meet students where they are and wrap them in the service and support they need to succeed;
Offer tailored, workforce-relevant learning experiences that are accessible and deliver proven results; and
Foster an agile, efficient, data-driven operation that responds swiftly to market trends and demands.