At colleges on the Eastern Shore, you’d be hard-pressed to find towering football stadiums surrounded by hundreds of game-day tailgates or massive lecture halls with nearly every seat taken. For students who choose schools east of the Chesapeake Bay, it’s the intimate student environment — with rural campuses, small classes and lots of one-on-one attention — that creates a one-of-a-kind experience.
“We have always been unapologetic about where we are,” said Satyajit Dattagupta, the vice president for enrollment management at Washington College in Chestertown. “The culture on the Eastern Shore is a lot smaller, it’s calmer and the people are very different. I’ve talked to a lot of students about this very specific fact, and they say people seem to have time here. It’s about unhurried conversation.”
That sentiment is something you hear a lot as you talk to school officials throughout the region. And the campuses, despite being a fraction of the size of larger state schools, offer world-class educations with a wide array of competitive academic programs, they say.
“If you want to get away from the city life and get to a place where you can really concentrate on getting a high-quality education, this is the place for you,” said Juliette Bell, president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne.
Higher education options in the region range from noncredit training programs to community colleges to four-year institutions, and many of the top majors revolve around the needs of the area’s industries. Programs relating to health care, education, hospitality, environmental science and business are among the most popular choices.
Community colleges, including Chesapeake College and Wor-Wic Community College, offer flexible, inexpensive programs to students looking to stay close to home. Industry-related majors are crowd pleasers, as are liberal arts classes, which allow students to fulfill four-year institutions’ general education requirements.
“We do have those traditional college-age kids who come for an associate degree or who transfer on to a four-year college, but we also have folks who have no college experience who come back to school or folks who come back to change careers,” said Marcie Alvarado Molloy, spokesperson for Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. She noted that the small classroom sizes and familiarity with instructors are a “wonderful reality” to students who are intimidated by the thought of studying on a large campus.
The Wye Mills campus is also home to the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center, which brings programs from institutions around the region to an underserved part of the state, according to Deborah Urry, the center’s executive director. Students can go to the center to take classes from Salisbury’s popular program in elementary education, for example, without worrying about a lengthy commute.
The area’s four-year institutions, which include Salisbury University (about 8,000 undergraduates), University of Maryland Eastern Shore (3,700) and Washington College (1,400), contain the scope of studies you’d expect from any top-tier school. In addition to the popular programs that span the region, students can study business administration at Salisbury’s Perdue School of Business, learn about PGA golf management at UMES or rub shoulders with published writers in the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College.
The schools’ proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and other bodies of water offer a unique “learning laboratory” for students interested in marine and estuary science, Bell added.
Students can get their feet wet in aquatic-themed fields with majors like biology, chemistry and environmental science. Washington College offers a “Chesapeake Semester,” which allows students to explore the science, sociology, politics and history of the watershed region.
With the Eastern Shore’s charm, culture and relaxed atmosphere, it’s no wonder many students stay in the area, particularly if they already had roots there. However, school officials noted that many students also move out of the area to attend graduate school or other post-secondary institutions, join national corporations or experience life in a larger city.
Students are “uniquely prepared to go into positions once they complete their studies at the university,” Bell said, speaking about UMES. “We really give students a skill set, and that’s important whether they leave the university and go out to get a job or they decide to go on and further their studies.”