BALTIMORE, M.D. - October 12, 2011 - As a member of the President's Advisory Council for Stevenson University, I have had a front row seat to observe its stunning success. Through academic excellence, job and graduate school placement (95%), and intelligent marketing, Stevenson has doubled its undergraduate enrollment in the last decade. The following article provides an overview of a case study in effective management.
Building a University by David McKay Wilson.
When Stevenson University built its first University-owned residence halls in Owings Mills in 2004, the project featured four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments that could be converted to market-rate rentals if students didn't want to live there. Yet Stevenson students came in droves, filling all 550 beds that first year. This fall, more than 2,000 students moved into the University's residence halls in Owings Mills, including the 520 who now occupy two new halls that opened late this summer. On Sept. 10, the Stevenson Mustangs football team played its first home game at the University's new stadium, which also houses a fitness center where students are getting in shape behind the glassed-in façade that faces Owings Mills Boulevard.
The commuter school once known as Villa Julie College has transformed itself into the increasingly residential institution called Stevenson University with its two distinctive campuses that are located six miles apart in northwest Baltimore County.
"We had a vision, and we had a sense of urgency," says Stevenson President Kevin J. Manning, Ph.D. "We knew that unless we changed our character, we would be unable to survive."
Students look out of Rockland Center toward residence halls.
Transforming a Vision Into Reality The rapid development of the 75-acre Owings Mills site has played a central role in Stevenson's emergence as Maryland's fastest-growing four-year independent university. During the past decade, Stevenson's enrollment has risen from 1,500 to 3,250, with the number of students living on campus growing from 200 to 2,000. The development of Stevenson's graduate programs in business, technology, nursing, and forensics has also helped fuel its growth.
The University dates back to 1947, when the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur bought the Seven Oaks mansion in Greenspring Valley from The Johns Hopkins University. The Sisters established a two-year college for women who were training to become secretaries in the medical and legal fields. The College became independent from the Church in 1967, went co-ed in 1972, and has since expanded its academic offerings, including today's array of undergraduate and graduate programs.
Villa Julie College renamed itself Stevenson University in 2008 and sharpened its focus on educating its students for 21st century careers in business, education, nursing, and criminal justice. It also developed an intercollegiate athletics program that's making a name in Division III sports and creating the kind of buzz that generates college spirit.
Nicole Lee '12, a biology major from Pasadena, MD, has lived on the Owings Mills campus since 2008. She lived in the two-person suites at Western Run and Susquehanna halls her first two years, then moved to the four-bedroom apartments with three roommates in 2010 and 2011. "Lacrosse is huge, and the Saturday afternoon games are fun," she says. "The guys get dressed up and write out M-U-S-T-A-N-G-S in green on their chests."
Student life at Owings Mills revolves around campus-wide activities, such as the outdoor movies shown on a big screen in a residence hall quad; the Patio Jams at Pandini's, one of the eateries in the Rockland Center; or the campus' version of Saturday Night Live, with entertainers on hand to perform. On weekends, a school shuttle bus may carry students to Baltimore's Inner Harbor or to the Towson Town Center Mall for shopping. Outside the residence halls, students play three-on-three on the complex's basketball court; nearby, male and female students play volleyball in the sand. When the sun sets, students head to nearby restaurants along Owings Mills Boulevard, be it Edo Mae Sushi and New York Pizza or Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill. Others may hoof it to the nearby Safeway to procure fixings for dinner in their apartments.
"It was fabulous on Fridays," says Lee. "We'd go out shopping and come back with food for our Fiesta Fridays, where we'd invite our friends over to make tacos." As a science major, Lee has most of her classes on the Greenspring campus, a 12-minute ride on one of the Stevenson shuttle buses. During her junior year, she scheduled her classes so she could take a shuttle to the other campus at 10 a.m. and be back to Owings Mills by 3 p.m. "It only takes 12 minutes," she says. "If we were on a big campus, it could take 15 minutes to get to class. It's just that we aren't getting that exercise."
Strategy Meets Opportunity The building project-financed in large part with $130 million in tax-free bonds from the Maryland Health and Higher Education Facilities Authority-has also become a labor of love for Howard S. Brown, the prominent Owings Mills builder who dreamed of a vast retailand-office development in one of the northwest Baltimore County's prime commercial corridors.
Instead, the land has become a mixed-use development, with restaurants and shops along Owings Mills Boulevard and the Stevenson campus taking over the hillside behind the stores. The Howard S. Brown School of Business and Leadership now stands as the campus' academic centerpiece.
Since 2004, Brown's company has constructed 13 residence halls with about 2,000 beds; the business school building; two student centers; and a gymnasium, and has renovated the Baltimore Ravens' former training facility. Stevenson also bought two Brown office buildings, turning one into a residence hall and another into classroom and office space. "This began as an opportunity to help the school grow, and it wasn't my intent to do anything more than build the first apartment project," says Brown, whose development company, David S. Brown Enterprises, was founded in 1937 by his father. "But then the relationship continued to grow. It got momentum and really took off."
Manning says Brown's enthusiastic response to Stevenson's building proposals provided the synergy needed to create a college campus so quickly. "Howard Brown has the same kind of nervous system that we have," says Manning. "He couldn't build the buildings fast enough. We have the same level of impatience." While no new buildings are immediately on the drawing board, there is conversation about further expansion of Stevenson's Owings Mills campus. Just to the east of the campus lies the state of Maryland's former Rosewood Center, a treatment center for the mentally ill that was closed in 2009. Stevenson is in discussions with the state about "We had a vision, and we had a sense of urgency," says President Kevin J. Manning, Ph.D. purchasing some of the Rosewood property. The Owings Mills campus evolved after years of town-gown tensions in Stevenson, with the College looking to expand on its 60-acre campus along Greenspring Valley Road. Residents, however, opposed the College's ambitions, contending that student housing-particularly the associated traffic, noise, and wastewater issues-wasn't compatible with the horse farms and large tracts of private land along the winding road.
Helping the Greenspring residents was Baltimore County zoning, conceived in the 1970s to preserve the region's rural character while promoting growth in urbanized corridors. Greenspring Valley Road was on the rural side of the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line in a zoning category designated as "agricultural preservation." By the end of the 20th century, College officials accepted the fact that expansion in Greenspring was off the table. They also knew that to survive in the higher-education marketplace of the next century, they needed residence halls to recruit students beyond the reach of those who could commute from metropolitan Baltimore. Officials also wanted to create an athletic facility that could both expand its student base and create the kind of college experience young adults seek. The College had begun its search for housing options in the 1990s. In 1993, Villa Julie leased rooms for 23 students at the former Comfort Inn on Reisterstown Road, about six miles west of Greenspring. By the late 1990s, there were about 200 students living at what was called Wooded Way when its owners decided to sell. Villa Julie-in what turned out to be good luck-lost its bid to buy the building, which was torn down to build a Target. The College then moved its residences to an apartment complex five miles east of Greenspring, the Colony at Towson, which had close to 300 students who were interspersed with non-student renters. Yet the College owned neither Wooded Way nor the Colony, and neither option provided the kind of college-campus experience desired by today's young adults. "The Colony turned out to be really hard to manage," recalls Timothy M. Campbell, Stevenson's Executive Vice President, Financial Affairs, and Chief Financial Officer. In the late 1990s, Campbell worked with MacKenzie and Associates to identify possible building sites in Baltimore County's urbanized corridors.
While the College's goal initially was to find property for residence halls only, the leadership team started to think of the broader picture.
Shaping the 21st Century University The search intensified in 2000 with the arrival of Manning as president. By 2002, the property search had been narrowed to three parcels. The Owings Mills site won out, in part due to its immediate neighbor to the north: the training facility of the Baltimore Ravens, which at the time was owned by the city of Baltimore. According to rumor, the Ravens would be moving to a new facility.
"An athletic facility was one of our critical needs and would have been a real bonus," says Campbell. "We knew that if we decided to build in Owings Mills and then pulled off purchasing the Ravens site, we would hit a home run. And then it actually happened." The rumors Campbell had heard about the Ravens moving to an improved training facility proved true. By the time construction had begun on the College's first housing project, the Ravens had announced their intention to build a new practice facility. "Our Owings Mills campus is an accidental, serendipitous, entrepreneurial venture, open to innovation," says Paul D. Lack, Ph.D., Stevenson's Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean. "It has worked well for everyone involved. It's good for Owings Mills. It's good for Stevenson. And it's good for our neighbors in Greenspring. It helped keep that campus pristine." Teresa Moore, executive director of the nonprofit Valleys Planning Council, says Manning's decision to develop Owings Mills turned the tide in Greenspring. "It was time for the College to expand and they found the other site," says Moore. "They've gone out of their way to be good neighbors, and they now act like you'd like a neighbor to act."
By 2005, the city had sold the College the Ravens facility, which had become somewhat rundown since it was built in 1979 for the former Baltimore Colts. Brown renovated it into the Caves Sports and Wellness Center, which includes offices for school health professionals, classrooms, and locker rooms for Stevenson's student athletes. Adding the athletic facility provided a strong draw to the Owings Mills campus. Once it was renovated, professors started holding small classes in some of its rooms. Those were such a success that College officials looked to bring more classes to Owings Mills and in 2005 bought one of Brown's office buildings, which now houses offices and the School of Graduate and Professional Studies. New buildings since then include more residence halls and the business school building, which is home to a state-of-the-art mock trial courtroom. Today, 51 percent of Stevenson's classes are held in Owings Mills.
"The University has become an anchor for Owings Mills," says Lack. "And it's great working here. You never know what's going to be happening next." About the writer: David McKay Wilson, a freelance journalist, has written for publications at 84 colleges and universities, including Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Harvard, Dartmouth, and University of Chicago. A veteran journalist with 33 years in the business, he has written regularly for The New York Times and worked for Gannett for 21 years in the northern suburbs of New York City. His 2011 cover story for Amtrak's Arrive magazine profiled six top U.S. educators. "In recent years, Stevenson University has grown from a small, two-year college to a university that serves our entire region. With the emergence of its Owings Mills campus and the start of its first football season, this is an exciting time for Stevenson.
As someone who has supported the transformation of this university, first as a Councilman and now as Baltimore County Executive, I can't wait to see what's next." Kevin Kamenetz Baltimore County Executive.