Higher Education Institution leaders address Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce membership

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SALISBURY — The Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the December General Membership Breakfast Dec. 14, 2023, featuring the leaders of three higher education institutions: the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Salisbury University, and Wor-Wic Community College.

Dr. Heidi Anderson, Dr. Carolyn Ringer Lepre, and Dr. Deborah Casey addressed an audience of one hundred business and organizational leaders from across the lower shore at the Wicomico Civic Center.

The event moderators were the co-Chairs of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Education Network, Dr. Rick Briggs, chief academic officer for the Wicomico County Public Schools, and Aaron Guy, director of community partners, Pohanka Automotive Group of Salisbury.

The topics of conversation among the three presidents ranged from collaboration, enrollment trends, meeting a changing workforce environment, keeping graduates local, and what lies on the horizon for higher education on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Dr. Casey, commenting on collaboration with the Horizon Delmarva on the STEM programs, said, “We get 6th through 9th grade students and expose them to the opportunities that they can take advantage of when looking down the road at a career path.”

Additionally, the Aspen Institute joined together 30 teams of institution across the country, including UMES and Wor-Wic, in providing programs to assist students in transferring from a community college to a four-year institution. 

Dr. Lepre said the Wor-Wic graduate to Salisbury University pathway has the highest graduation rate in the United States.

Regarding enrollment trends, all three leaders agreed their respective institutions are still in recovery mode following the pandemic.

Dr. Anderson said, “it took time to see our numbers rise, but our fall enrollment numbers are up 13%. Because of the pandemic, students and parents are looking for colleges closer to home.”

When addressing the ever-growing and changing workforce needs, Dr. Lepre spoke of her institution’s flexibility with their curriculum.

“It doesn’t make any sense to start a program or class offering that isn’t mission-driven,” said Dr. Lepre.

Dr. Casey said that Wor-Wic uses business advisory boards to help guide decisions on addressing workforce needs.

Dr. Anderson talked about addressing workforce needs and shortages in areas including veterinary science, a high-demand statewide vocation, specifically here on the shore.

“I am hopeful that in the coming days, the University System of Maryland will approve the opening at UMES of Maryland’s first and only Veterinary Science School,” said Dr. Anderson.

All three higher education leaders spoke further on their mutual collaborations and the importance of moving all three institutions forward.

Dr. Lepre said, “Between these three academic institutions, a student can get a world-class education right here on the lower shore.”

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