For only the second time in the past six years, Bowie State College has reported an increase in enrollment. What seems most surprising about the 5 percent jump is that it comes at a time when colleges and universities across the country are facing drops in their student populations.
Over the past year, the Bowie college's enrollment has grown from 2,722 to 2,879. While administrators say two new graduate programs probably account for part of the increase, they believe that a change in image has also helped.
"For a long time, Bowie has had an image problem," said Rufus L. Barfield, who took over as president of the 115-year-old school last year. l"Now, I think we are beginning to turn the corner. People are hearing a lot of positive things about us, and as a result, high school kids are considering Bowie more seriously."
Indeed, Bowie State has had more than its share of problems during the last few years. In 1977, the school instituted a hiring freeze when faced with a $315,000 deficit. Relations between the faculty and adminstration, already icy over complaints that the faculty had no voice in curriculum decisions, hardly improved after the freeze.
At the same time, nearly 10 percent of the students were on academic probation.
Since he took office last year, Barfield has shaken up several of the departments at Bowie and has overseen the start of three new academic programs. For example, the Department of Fine and Performing Arts has a new chairman and six new faculty members this year.
"There is a real need in this country for a school that can train black screenwriters, producers, actors, and directors," the president noted.
The new administration also embarked on a major campaign to improve the college's image, sponsoring several "town gown affairs," social gatherings that usually attract community and county leaders.
The school has also begun to expand its curriculum. It unveiled last fall a nursing program that administrators say is the only one of its kind in south central Maryland. The program is designed for registered nurses who seek a baccalaureate in science. At present, 75 students are enrolled.
We expect the nursing program to boost our enrollment significantly in the next several years," said Barfield.
In the past year, the school also has begun degree programs in public administration and administrative management. The public administration program is for undergraduates and the administrative management program is for graduates. Both seek to train mid-level managers for the political and corporate worlds.
"The development of these programs has come at a time when we are beginning to move slowly away from the liberal arts," said Barfield. "It's difficult to know where the future will take us, but I believe this trend will continue."
While the school seems to be moving in new directions, there are still several old administrative problems remaining. One of the most notable is a housing shortage.
"Our enrollment would probably have increased even more if there were more living space," Barfield noted. "The real problem here is that it's almost impossible to find money to build new dormitories."
The new president also has had to grapple with the question of whether Bowie will preserve its identity as a predominantly black institution. At present the student body is 60 percent black.
"I think the cultural identity of the institution will be preserved," said Barfield. "You just can't be too concerned about whether a school is all black or all white. The history of the institution will always be with it. Our job, I think, is to ensure that the school offers quality education."