Nine Universities. 80 Degrees. One Short Drive.

Nine Universities. 80 Degrees. One Short Drive.

The Universities at Shady Grove offers nontraditional students a lower-cost, more convenient way to get higher education

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Come May, Yamu Cham of Gaithersburg will be that rarest of creatures in today’s struggling economy: a new college graduate with a job.

Cham will receive a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business this spring. And the 29-year-old already has accepted a job at Freddie Mac in McLean, Va., where she interned last summer.

Even though her degree will be awarded by that esteemed business school, Cham has not attended classes at the university’s College Park campus as most students do. Instead, she has traveled just minutes each day from her home to The Universities at Shady Grove (USG) in Rockville, where she has received the same education that’s offered in College Park—at a reduced cost.

Cham is among a growing number of success stories at USG, a regional higher education center that’s part of the University System of Maryland. With 80 upper-level undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered by nine public universities, USG provides a local option for students who can’t afford or don’t want to leave home to attend college, as well as for nontraditional students looking to fast-track earning a degree.

“It was so convenient,” says Cham, who helps care for two younger siblings at home. “And we have smaller classes and get attention from our professors.”

William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, calls USG the “crown jewel” of the system. It’s helping to build the local workforce by producing graduates with specific skills that area businesses seek, he says. Little wonder that other state university systems, including those in Texas and Tennessee, have shown interest in the USG model. The University of Massachusetts’ system already is planning to open a center based on USG, Kirwan says.    

“It’s a very effective and efficient way of responding to the educational needs of the county,” he says.

It was in the early 1990s that local government, business and education officials started thinking about how to create education and training opportunities in Montgomery County to satisfy its workforce needs. Long considered the state’s economic engine, the county lacked its own four-year institution to produce graduates with the specific skills required by the growing number of businesses focused on health care, biosciences and technology.   

The county had established the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center on a donated, 450-acre parcel in 1980. Fifty of those acres were given to the University System of Maryland, which opened the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology there in 1989.

In the ensuing decade, the Shady Grove Center, as it was known, expanded with the nearby construction of a regional higher education center consisting of two buildings. Administered by the University of Maryland University College, the center offered evening and part-time undergraduate and graduate programs.

By 1998, education leaders were talking with business and community leaders about ways to bring University System of Maryland institutions into the county to offer daytime undergraduate programs. Thus the concept of The Universities at Shady Grove was born. The Shady Grove Center buildings proved the ideal site since they went unused during the day.      

In 2000, USG began offering upper-level daytime undergraduate programs from eight state universities. The idea was that students could earn associate degrees at, say, Montgomery College’s Rockville, Germantown or Takoma Park/Silver Spring campuses, and then transfer to one of the universities at USG. Currently, 75 percent of USG undergrads have transferred from Montgomery College, with the remainder coming from other community colleges.

Over the years, new degree programs were added based on local demand, including pharmacology, hotel and restaurant management and construction management technology. In 2008, Salisbury University became the ninth USG partner, offering an undergraduate program in respiratory therapy. And in 2009, the University of Maryland at College Park began offering a public health sciences degree program exclusively at USG.

The campus grew, as well. A research building was added in 2003, and the Camille Kendall Academic Center opened in 2007, providing more classrooms and many of the services of a regular university campus, including financial aid, academic and career counseling, a library and even a bookstore selling sweatshirts and sportswear from the state universities and from USG. A $160 million biomedical sciences and engineering complex with specialized teaching laboratories is planned.

More than 4,000 students—about 2,600 undergraduates and about 1,400 graduate students—currently attend USG’s participating universities, which include: the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Baltimore and Baltimore County branches; the University of Maryland University College; the University of Baltimore; and Bowie State, Salisbury, and Towson universities.

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