Skip to main content

Institutional Change in Higher Education: Innovation and Collaboration

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 89, No. 3

Freeman A. Hrabowski University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) 


To remain globally competitive and increase the number of young people completing two- and four-year college degrees, America needs to expand access to higher education and focus attention on the success of those who enroll. Expertise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) will be particularly important for maintaining a thriving economy and in developing innovative solutions to global challenges. However, only 6 percent of 24-year-olds in the United States hold first degrees in these fields, placing the country 20th in a comparison group of 24 industrialized countries. Many American students initially interested in STEM areas select other fields after they begin college: only 33 percent of white students, 42 percent of Asian American students, and about 20 percent of black, Latino, and Native American students who aspire to complete a STEM major succeed. This paper examines strategies developed at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and elsewhere that have created an atmosphere of inclusive excellence and are allowing more students of all backgrounds to succeed in STEM areas and other disciplines. Culture change at UMBC began 25 years ago with the development of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program for high-achieving minority students interested in STEM research careers. Lessons learned from that program have motivated University-wide changes as faculty, staff, and students have pursued broad initiatives to redesign courses, build community, and support and engage students.

I remember 40 years ago in college when the dean said, “Look at the student to your left; now look at the student to your right; one of you will not graduate....” But [at UMBC] we say this “Look at the student to your left; look at the student to your right; our goal is to make sure all three of you graduate. If you don’t, we fail, and we don't plan to fail.”—Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, at UMBC's 2010 Convocation

A surprising number of innovations fail not because of some fatal technological flaw or because the market isn't ready. They fail because responsibility to build these businesses is given to managers or organizations whose capabilities aren't up to the task. Corporate executives make this mistake because most often the very skills that propel an organization to succeed in sustaining circumstances systematically bungle the best ideas for disruptive growth. —Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator's Solution.


Freeman A. Hrabowski, III , has served as President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) since 1992. His research and publications focus on science and math education, with special emphasis on minority participation and performance. He chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced the 2010 report,  Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation, and he recently was named by President Obama to chair the newly created President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.