Harford and Howard counties may be the only two Baltimore suburbs without any four-year colleges or universities, but they are becoming two of the area's fastest- growing centers of higher education.
As local colleges and universities seek to broaden their appeal, a growing number are increasing their presence in the two outer suburbs to bring education to where people live - part of a trend across the country.
Extension programs now allow suburban dwellers to enroll in programs from business management classes to master's degrees in education - without having to visit a main campus.
"It's much easier to come out here than anywhere else," said Tim Dixon, 35, of Laurel, a second-grade teacher in Prince George's County who is working toward a master's degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies in Columbia. "I never have to go to the main campus. It's all right here."
Harford and Howard counties have offered different inducements to colleges and universities looking to expand. While Howard County's central location and wealthy, educated population are enough to interest area schools, Harford County opened a technologically advanced training center last year to bring college and university programs to northeastern Maryland.
Most of the programs - which include both undergraduate and graduate courses - are offered at night and on weekends, appealing to working people looking for extra training for their careers.
"Schools are recognizing that only offering education from 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, misses out on a lot of students," Charles Hickman, director of projects and services for the St. &L; Louis-based American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business. "They're becoming more customer-centered, offering programs at more convenient times and in more convenient locations."
Among the latest entrants to Columbia's education marketplace the University of Baltimore, which will begin offering a master's degree in public administration for government workers at a new university satellite center in the fall.
"We looked at a lot of census data and the demographics of the population, and it just made sense," said Larry Thomas, executive director of the University of Baltimore's School of Public Affairs, which will run the Columbia classes when they begin in the fall.
"The demand is there, and we think we can create new demand," he said.
The University of Baltimore program joins a number of other programs that have been located in Columbia since the early 1970s, including Howard Community College, the Traditional Acupuncture Institute and suburban campuses of the Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College. All four continue to grow in enrollment and expand their course offerings.
"The universities have decided that Howard County's market is a perfect place to expand their education programs, and that in turn helps us," said Richard W. Story, executive director of Howard County's Economic Development Authority.
"It's becoming a very rich climate for educational programs, and that's something we can use to promote the county to prospective businesses," he said.
In Harford, the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center opened last fall in a state and county effort to aid technology-oriented companies and provide upper-level degree opportunities for residents and workers.
The center has grown to include nine colleges and universities - including the College of Notre Dame, Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Towson State University, Loyola and several University of Maryland campuses - to offer 20 undergraduate and graduate-degree programs, said Diane Troyer, Harford Community College's vice president of academic and student affairs.
She expects more schools to join the center next year.
More than 300 students attend the evening classes, and 400 are enrolled in Notre Dame's weekend college, she said.
Part of the attraction of Harford's center is its interactive video-conference facilities, which allow courses with small enrollments to be taught at the same time at a main campus and in the center, Troyer said.
So many colleges and universities are able to be successful in the outer suburbs because each is finding its own niche and specializing, program directors say. One school may offer a master's degree in special education, and another may provide training in educational technologies.
"Each school has a particular kind of educational product," said Francis McGuire, director of graduate services at Loyola. "The competition in Columbia is no different than what we see in the city with so many schools nearby."
Pub Date: 7/21/96