The idea behind USG isn’t entirely novel. Ohio has had regional campuses for decades, and they’ve been developed in Oregon, New York, and Massachusetts. But Edelstein says the collaboration between different stakeholders, and the robust centralized student services and academic support at USG, are not often found in other models. The idea especially appeals to Hillman because it’s not reinventing the wheel. States from California to Ohio have contemplated allowing their community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, which would require the (costly) creation of entirely new programs. But Maryland’s approach makes sense to Hillman because it takes pathways to a degree that already exist and connects them, which could ultimately help states curb costs. USG says it saves the state nearly $14,000 per student.
It also saves students money. The cost of going to Montgomery College, the local community college, and then transferring to USG for the final two years of a degree is about $29,000. Students can earn scholarships both from their individual universities and from USG, and they can also rely on Pell grants and financial aid (loan amounts for USG students are well-below national averages). Students who attend Montgomery College and then transfer to a four-year university elsewhere in the state and live on campus for the final two years of a degree pay about $48,100, while students who go straight into a four-year school pay about $78,400, making USG much more feasible for low-income students.
Erick Funte, a 20-year-old nursing student who spent part of his childhood in a nursing home in Bethesda where his mom worked as a live-in nurse, heard about the campus from his brother’s friend and liked the idea of staying nearby. The campus is “not daunting; it’s welcoming,” he said. While he’s fielded negative comments about the fact that he began his college career at a two-year school, Funte isn’t bothered. “A lot of people take this kind of opportunity for granted,” he said. “This makes financial sense.” And he thinks he gets more support at USG as a transfer student because the entire campus is designed to help students like him succeed. His girlfriend, also a nursing student, recently transferred to an Ivy-League university from a community college. Funte says the transition has been hard, especially socially, for her, while he’s had an easy time meeting friends and study partners.
Dakota Bucci, a junior at the campus studying special education through Towson, grew up a half-hour drive away in Damascus and wanted to go to college nearby to be near her autistic brother. She heard about USG from her older sister and liked the idea of small class sizes and the opportunity to intern at schools where she might ultimately end up working. Bucci, who lives at home, realizes she might be missing out on some of the social aspects of dorm life, but insists the home-cooked meals and friendships she’s made because of USG’s small class sizes are worth more.