October 8, 2014
By Goldie Blumenstyk
Javier Miyares, president of the University of Maryland University College: “In this business there are shiny objects. Today the shiny objects are Southern New Hampshire and Arizona State. We are not the shiny objects.”
The University of Maryland University College, fearing that it has lost its mojo as a dominant player in online education and suffering from recent enrollment declines, is considering converting itself into a private nonprofit institution.
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.
The Rise of an Online Giant
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.