What comes to mind when you think of Baltimore?
There are in the Baltimore area 22 colleges, universities, community colleges and institutes of higher learning. All told, the schools enroll about 100,0000 students. But ask folks, even those in the thick of academia, whether they consider Baltimore a college town, and the response is, well, bemused surprise.
"A college town? Hmm, interesting," says H. Mebane Turner, president of the University of Baltimore. "I suppose, yes, it could be. We just don't advertise it that way."
As subtle and as sure as the pull of the moon, the rhythms of the students pulse through the city and its suburbs, from Towson State University down Charles Street past the leafy-green campuses of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and Loyola College, beyond the red-brick reserve of the Johns Hopkins University, through urban funkiness to the University of Baltimore, the Maryland Institute, College of Art.
Jog a bit in either direction from this corridor to find Morgan State University, Coppin State College and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Last week, the college students returned to Baltimore for the beginning of the fall semester. Where a month ago, tables at taverns in Fells Point were open for the taking and the parking meters along St. Paul Street were lonely, the avenues and corridors, the laundromats and grocery aisles now thrum with the beat of the students.
'Subspecies of urban life'
Even so, as University of Baltimore Professor Neil Kleinman notes, the college community has been a "subspecies of urban life," but one that, nevertheless, pumps millions of dollars into the local economy and shapes the social fabric in innumerable ways.
If the 100,000 students enrolled in Baltimore area colleges were corralled within a municipal boundary, their population would create the second-largest city in Maryland.
More than 40,000 people are employed by area colleges, and another 70,000 jobs depend on the schools for their success, according to a report for the Greater Baltimore Committee by Goucher College.
A 1995 study done for Hopkins, the widely acknowledged "800-pound gorilla" on the local college scene, estimates that full-time Hopkins students who would not otherwise be in Maryland spent $41.8 million in fiscal 1994.
The economic impact studies, however, tell only part of the story. Big spending translates into survival for the small businesses surrounding the campuses.
"Hopkins means everything to my business," says Jerry Gordon, owner of Eddie's Super Market on St. Paul Street in Charles Village near Johns Hopkins.
A banner in the window of Eddie's welcomes students back, but it hardly seems necessary.
Gordon and his staff know many by name and are ready to point the newcomers -- often with mom and dad in tow -- toward the gourmet ice cream (a big seller) or the deli where the "Smokin' Jays" sandwich, a smoked turkey breast with bacon, mozzarella, lettuce and tomato on a roll, is a top seller.
"My favorite day of the year is Labor Day because that means the students are here," says Gordon.
40 percent of business
Across St. Paul at Images Card and Gift Cafe, owner Alice Brock spent Labor Day weekend happily chatting with returning students who, she says, account for 40 percent of her business.
"Two weeks ago, nobody was in here on Saturday afternoon," Brock says. "I feel a tremendous difference when they're back, and frankly, I couldn't make it without them."
Don McCulloh, vice president for administration and finance at Towson State, estimates that altogether, university students contribute $4 million to $5 million annually to the local economy.
The Hechinger store in Northwood near Morgan State University sells the usual first apartment necessities.
But the real boon from its proximity to the campus comes from the ready supply of qualified students willing to work part time, says customer service manager David Anderson. He figures that at least 10 percent of the store's 120 employees are Morgan students.
The rental market, too, gets its share of the student dollars. Richard Cole of Cole & Co. says that about 10 percent of the 75 units he manages in Bolton Hill, Charles Village and Mount Vernon rent to students.
"In Charles Village, the neighborhood truly ebbs and flows with Hopkins," Cole says.
But greenbacks tell only part of the story. There is also green hair.
"You don't see people with purple hair when the students aren't here," says Penny Catzen, an editor of the Bolton Hill Bulletin, who lives two blocks from the Maryland Institute.
Bolton Hill residents have become so attuned to the rhythms of the students that they know precisely when the costumes of the freshmen will morph from hometown to arty.
"At the first of the school year, you see the mothers and the dads," says Nancie Verkerke, a Bolton Hill resident. "After mom and dad leave, you start to see the orange and purple hair."
Across the city in Fells Point, 17-year resident Denise Whitman can tell when the partying is starting to catch up with the students who fill the Cat's Eye Pub, where she and her husband perform Irish ballads.
"This time of year when I play there, I say, 'They're baaaack,' " says Whitman. "The September and October crowds party hearty, and the places are packed. In November, it's obvious that a lot of them haven't studied, and the pubs empty out."
And then there's ambience
The ambience around colleges is much harder to measure than economic data, but it is no less noticeable in a community.
There are the obvious and celebrated contributions to the arts, research, medicine and neighborhood renovations.
Certainly, no assessment of the impact of local colleges would be complete without considering the international reputation of Hopkins and the University of Maryland at Baltimore medical institutions, which attract patients, medical students and researchers from around the globe.
And then there are the sometimes obscure and often unsung efforts that make a community richer.
Increasingly colleges are encouraging public service by their students.
Morgan State created the Kuumba program (Kreating Urban Unity Utilizing Morgan and Baltimore Adolescents) to pair students with juvenile offenders and at-risk inner city youth.
The Shriver Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore County was created to harness the resources of faculty and staff to address urban problems.
At the Learning Bank, Loyola College students teach illiterate adults to read.
(Such voluntarism also goes a long way to ease the inevitable town-gown tensions that arise when the quiet apartment building down the block in Charles Village is overtaken by fraternity members or when tipsy students do what tipsy students do in gutters and on front porches in Fells Point.)
Within the past few years and especially with the advent of Web pages, a few folks are beginning to connect the disparate dots to draw a picture of Baltimore as a college town.
The University of Baltimore was the first with a Web site touting its institution and the surrounding neighborhood. The Baltimore Collegetown Network debuts its Web page tomorrow.
"It might take time for people to embrace the idea of Baltimore as a college town," says Cami Colarossi, a Goucher spokeswoman. "But there is a truly remarkable potential for the city to benefit from the resources the colleges bring -- the intellectual resources, the performing arts, the research. And if you think about it, 150,000 bright fresh faces can't help but energize a place."
Pub Date: 9/08/96