Story by Tina Wagner
Many years ago in Southern Maryland, obtaining a higher education locally was possible, but a student's options were limited. The then-Charles County Community College and St. Mary's College of Maryland primarily offered ways to obtain an associate or bachelor's degree, but for those who wanted to go on even further to obtain graduate degrees, a trip to College Park, Md. (to the University of Maryland), or to one of the many universities in Baltimore was where the road to a master's degree or doctorate often began. Today, things on the Southern Maryland higher education scene are much different and, indeed, much better. In fact, today a student can sit in classrooms locally and earn a bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree from esteemed universities such as Johns Hopkins, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and the University of Maryland, all thanks to the development of the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) in California, Md.
From 1993 to 1997, the Navy relocated thousands of jobs to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Lexington Park. This move, which brought 6,900 civil service employees, 6,400 defense contractor employees and many more professionals to the community, dramatically increased the demand for opportunities to obtain master's and doctoral degrees. Many of those professionals were seeking job security or higher pay, or were required by their employers to obtain such degrees.
As a result, the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center was established by the state of Maryland in 1994 "to provide a regional facility with state of the art technology to serve the university and professional training needs of the Southern Maryland region." Since the establishment of the center, it has grown to include 13 bachelor's degree completion programs and over 90 graduate degree programs offered by ten different distinguished university partners. Programs of study include engineering; education; management; clinical and community counseling, and school counseling; information technology; business administration; technical management; communications; and human resources, financial, health care, marketing and project management.
Electrical engineer Ritch Bullis, who works as a lead test engineer for the Infrared Test Measurement group at Patuxent River, was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1989. Upon his discharge, he decided he needed to complete his higher education in order to be competitive in the Southern Maryland job market. After obtaining a bachelor's from Capitol College (now a SMHEC partner) and enduring the long drive to Beltsville, Md., to do so, he decided to pursue a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University located at SMHEC. "[It] was perfect for me because, as a Leonardtown resident, it was close to where I live and offered the classes I needed," Bullis explained. "Years ago, in order to obtain a master's from Johns Hopkins I would have had to make the long drive to Baltimore. This would have been hard not only on me but my family as well," he added. "It is so important that people who live in Southern Maryland know that they have many opportunities for educational advancement here in their own backyard."
While SMHEC offers a wide variety of opportunities for completing a postgraduate program, there are other places in the region to do so. For instance, at St. Mary's College of Maryland students can earn a Master of Arts in teaching after completing a bachelor's program either at St. Mary's College or somewhere else. University of Maryland University College, which has a program at SMHEC, also offers classes in Prince Frederick and Waldorf. University College offers a comprehensive master's program with degrees in health care administration, accounting and finance, and many other areas.
In today's job market, the reality that having a bachelor's degree may not be competitive enough can be tough to accept. What does make things easier, however, is that there are many opportunities for obtaining the degrees necessary to be hired for and to keep these jobs. Even better is that it no longer means long drives to Baltimore and College Park, once again making Southern Maryland a great place to call home.
For more information about the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, visit www.smhec.org