Loyola College has expanded in Howard County, nearly doubling the size of its Columbia campus, in hopes of reaching a young professional community and tapping into the Washington-area suburbs.
The new 64,000-square-foot graduate campus on McGaw Road has 23 classrooms, a student lounge, a computer lab and room to expand course offerings.
The Washington Montessori Institute of Loyola, a master's program that draws heavily from the Washington area but had moved some of its courses to the school's Timonium campus, now is housed entirely in Columbia.
New graduate programs in computer science and software engineering also will debut in Columbia this fall.
And for the first time, Loyola's master's of business administration program, which draws up to 40 percent of the school's graduate students, can be completed at the Columbia campus.
"The residents of the county are ideally tailored for our professional program. They're professionally focused individuals," said Leslie Penkunas, associate director of public relations for the school. "That's a really great reason for us to increase our presence."
The campus "has very easy access to the D.C. Beltway and the Baltimore Beltway, so we're able to pull from both markets, reaching beyond the Columbia region," Penkunas said.
Loyola has seen an improvement. Since the new facility opened - its first students enrolled in summer courses - inquiries about the school's programs from residents who live nearby have increased 20 percent to 25 percent, the director of graduate admissions said.
That interest may be revealed in fall enrollments, the school official said.
Loyola, which has offered courses in Columbia since 1966, competes in the county with the University of Phoenix and the Johns Hopkins University, both of which have graduate programs in Columbia.
It is no wonder Howard appeared fertile ground for expansion.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 86 percent of Howard residents have a bachelor's degree or higher - more than any other county in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Additionally, census figures show 93 percent of adults ages 25 and older in the county have a high school diploma. And, the State Department of Education said 88 percent of those high school graduates - again, more than in any other county in the metro area - continue their educations.
Across the country, graduate school enrollments have been on the rise at a rate of about 2 percent annually since 2001, and the trend is expected to continue, said Lance Pressl, a spokesman for the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington.
Applications to graduate schools have increased by as much as 20 percent in some cases, he said, but the trend upward is somewhat expected in a poor economy. Colleges and universities usually see an increase in enrollments as people who have lost jobs seek to boost their education to better compete in poor economic times, Pressl said.
But in the Baltimore and Washington areas, interest is even higher, said Peter D. Syverson, vice president of research for the graduate group.
"Gauging from the ads I've seen in newspapers and radio, graduate education is big business around here," he said. "I suspect this area is growing as fast or faster than the national numbers. This is one of the most-educated areas in the country. The businesses here are high-tech and government, and those are businesses that demand people with high levels of education. This is an area where you'd see more graduate activity than in another area."
The new campus puts Columbia on a par with Loyola's flagship graduate campus in Timonium, which is slightly smaller, said Scott Greatorex, director of graduate admission. He said the school had long known its previous facility was inadequate for the services it wanted to offer. A yearlong study of the area revealed the college had low penetration in the market but that demand for graduate courses - especially for working professionals - remained high.
"We were only getting a few thousand requests [a] year," Greatorex said. "Even people deep into Prince George's could commute within a half-hour, and people indicated they would be willing to travel."
During the past three years, between 8 percent and 12 percent of new students enrolled in graduate studies were from Howard County, Greatorex said, but the number is growing. Loyola has about 3,000 graduate students.
That the college can offer many of its fast-track and part-time degree programs entirely at the Columbia campus, and that the campuses are connected through distance-learning programs, will boost efforts to draw more students from Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Greatorex said.
"We want Loyola to be perceived as a resource to the community," he said. "I think this is a strong statement we're making. We're committed to Howard County and surrounding counties with a state-of-the-art, high-tech, accessible environment that's conducive to top-notch learning."