Nine colleges share one campus to close the local skills gap

'Where there aren't quality choices, students—and local economies—lose out'

A program in Montgomery County, Maryland brings together leaders from high schools, community colleges, state colleges, and businesses to close the regional skills gap, Emily Deruy reports for The Atlantic.

In a piece supported by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Deruy looks at the ways The Universities at Shady Grove (USG) support students and push them toward graduation.

USG allows students, many of whom are first-generation or low-income, remain in their communities while earning bachelor's degrees. A University of Wisconsin-Madison paper published this year noted that a majority of incoming students attend college near their homes. That can be limiting, especially if there are few education options nearby.

"Where there aren't quality choices, students—and local economies—lose out," Deruy writes.

USG provides an alternative solution: a stand-alone campus where professors from nine of the state's 12 colleges teach. Students enroll at their local community colleges, then transfer to one of the participating four-year institutions but attend classes at USG. Graduates' diplomas only note the college they enrolled in, such as Townson University.

How to build successful transfer student pathways

"We have local talent and what we're trying to do is build a local workforce that supports the growth of the local economy," says Stewart Edelstein, USG executive director.

"You look at what's happening in the school system and you look at what the needs in the workforce are, and you see an immediate disconnect," he says.

Minorities and people born in Maryland are less likely to have a degree than white residents and people who moved to the state from elsewhere.

More than 33% of college students transfer

"It's not a talent gap, it's an opportunity gap," Edelstein says. "There is talent that is not being nurtured and we're trying to identify that talent as early as we can and find the things we can do to intervene."

Supporting nontraditional students

GSU offers night classes, paid internship opportunities, summer bridge programs, and mentors. Students can also apply for scholarships from USG as well as the individual university they're attending. All participating parties, from high school leaders to businesses, work together to ensure transferring is as easy as possible for students.

A full 75% of students earn their bachelor's degrees within four years of starting at USG. A third go on to graduate school.

The program essentially takes an existing pathway to a degree and makes it more accessible, says Nick Hillman, lead author of the UW-Madison paper. According to USG officials, the program saves Maryland $14,000 per student.

"This model is a really important model for the future," Edelstein says. "Being local, being connected to the community-college system as we are, being connected to the school system as we are, being connected to business locally, it's the way to go" (Deruy, The Atlantic, 5/12).

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