REPLY ALL | Tina Bjarekull
President, Maryland Independent College & University Association
Maryland Chamber of Commerce board member
What has been your journey to your current position at Maryland Independent College & University Association (MICUA)?
I was born and raised in rural Wisconsin and have lived on the east coast for most of my adult life. I have lived here in Maryland for almost 30 years now, I certainly consider Maryland my home.
After moving to Maryland and obtaining my MBA from Loyola University, I got a job working for the Department of Legislative Services, which provides professional staff to the General Assembly. While I worked there, I was assigned a position with the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee and that’s where I really began to get into education issues, mostly fiscal issues and policy issues. I later worked as the Assistant Secretary of Higher Education, the Deputy Superintendent of Schools, and for the past 16 years, I’ve served as President of MICUA.
Tell us a little bit about MICUA.
MICUA is a member organization established by the presidents of Maryland’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities almost 60 years ago. The presidents, still to this day, are very much involved in the organization. The presidents sit on the governing board, they set the agenda, they set the goals. Obviously, we work on advocacy issues, for our member institutions both at the state and federal level. We work with elected and appointed officials and serve on task forces and commissions to be the voice for these independent institutions. We work heavily on advocating for student financial aid.
Higher ed is highly regulated. So, we also work on regulatory issues. We seek cost saving opportunities among our members – through joint purchasing of good and services and other opportunities for resource sharing. We provide training services and information to campus leaders; and we also manage a small foundation that raises funds to support students through scholarships and internships.
MICUA has a variety of initiatives, would you be willing to speak to one or two that you believe will create an impact on Maryland’s educational talent pipeline?
Maryland has a highly regulated system of higher education. All academic programs and even significant modifications of existing programs must be approved by the State.
One of the things MICUA has been working on over the past several months is expediting and streamlining the academic program approval process. We are seeking the ability to bring new programs and modified programs to the market more quickly.
Currently, the MICUA member institutions offer 1,500 approved academic programs. To keep pace with changes in the workforce as well as industry and economic shifts, institutions must adjust programs, eliminate programs, and adopt new programs.
Another effort that we are working on in collaboration with our partners throughout the nation, is to dispel many myths about a liberal arts education.
We have solid data demonstrating the effectiveness of liberal arts institutions in graduating students, and the success of these graduates in terms of job placements and earnings. Despite these facts, there is a pervasive myth that graduates of liberal arts institutions are unemployed or not prepared for the workforce.
Could you speak about some of your initiatives on increasing college access through programs such as the Sellinger and GAAP programs?
Many of the MICUA member institutions were established to provide college access to groups of individuals who were underserved; women, economically disadvantaged, or individuals residing in rural communities who did not have the means to travel to the east coast for an education.
Both the Sellinger Program and the GAPP initiative support our access goals.
The state provides grants to independent colleges through the Sellinger Program. The eligible MICUA institutions receive funds based on the number of students served.
The institutions must use those funds to support the state’s goals for higher education. Today, 90% of the funds are used to provide financial aid to Maryland students and the vast majority of that aid is distributed based on need. The remaining funds are used to address workforce shortage needs or bring programs to underserved areas of the state.
The Guaranteed Access Partnership Program is a program MICUA members launched with the state three years ago.
For decades, the state has had a Guaranteed Access scholarship program that provides substantial aid to Maryland’s most economically disadvantaged high school graduates. Three years ago, every MICUA member institution made a commitment to match that state grant to make an independent college affordable for Maryland’s lowest income students.
The program has been very successful. We’ve seen a substantial increase in the enrollment of low-income Marylanders.
What recommendations would you have for businesses on how to get more involved with Higher Ed?
Businesses can become more involved in higher education by volunteering experts to serve on advisory panels that develop and revise academic curriculum, or serve as adjunct faculty. They can also get involved with providing internship opportunities for college students.
Businesses that work in high-tech fields may want to donate equipment or workers to provide training on the use of certain equipment or technologies. Business can get involved in job fairs and connect with campus career offices.
In short, Maryland businesses have a vested interest in the work that takes place in our colleges and universities. I urge you to get involved.
What has continued to motivate you throughout your career?
It is also rewarding to work on issues that I embrace personally – education, college access, equal opportunity for women and minorities. I believe in the mission of the Association, and that is certainly rewarding and motivating.
What motivates you personally?
Obviously, family is important. I am motivated to make their lives better in some way – easier, more enjoyable. I am also motivated by our natural surroundings. When you view the vast expansive sky or take a walk among soaring trees, you recognize just how small and insignificant you are in the universe. I find that inspiring. It makes me humble, respectful of my place in a large world, and it helps me recognize the opportunities I have been given. That inspires me to want to be a better person in many ways.