UMass Lowell’s Turnaround Man
Seven years into Marty Meehan’s tenure as Chancellor, University of Massachusetts Lowell is upbeat on its growth trajectory. The institution has achieved record growth in enrollment, student retention, research and scholarship funding and ranking under the headship of this former Congressman
By Dipin Damodharan
The history of University of Massachusetts, a public higher-education institution located on the banks of Merrimack River and known for its science and engineering programmes, dates back to the 1890s. The Lowell Normal School, a teaching college, was founded in 1894. After one year, Lowell Textile School started functioning to train managers for the textile sector. The two institutes, in 1975, merged to form University of Lowell. When it became a part of the University of Massachusetts system in 1991, University of Lowell was renamed University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML). However, UML had yet to find its brand in the league of world-class universities.
Abandoning a high-profile political career, Marty Meehan, on July 1, 2007, made chose to become the Chancellor of his alma mater. He set to work using his experience not only as a graduate but also as a Representative of the Lowell area in US Congress for 14 years to move the institution forward with the goal of becoming a world-class university.
Marty Meehan tells Education Insider: “My vision was to take an already strong research university to the next level to offer more opportunities for our students and increased engagement in our community and build on the institution’s excellence in teaching, research and scholarship. My goal was to work as hard for UMass Lowell as I did for the Fifth District in Congress, to make our campus a shining example of the value of public higher education to our graduates, the community and the world. We have an important role, not only in delivering the best possible education to our students but also in powering the region’s innovation economy.”
Meehan outlined several major goals for the university, including increasing student enrollment, expanding through the construction of the first two new academic buildings on UML campus in over 30 years, adding more housing for students, as studies showed that students who live on campus are more successful academically, and an expansion of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2), a joint project of UMass Lowell and the UMass Medical School.
Meehan elaborates on his vision: “While we have been successful in meeting all of those goals over the years since, I wanted UMass Lowell to have a comprehensive vision for its future. Toward that, we formed a task force representing all areas of the university to establish a strategic plan called ‘UMass Lowell-2020’. “The plan encompasses not only my vision but also those of the campus as a whole for where we want to see the university at the start of the next decade. This includes ambitious goals for student success, global and community engagement, innovative research and entrepreneurship, transformational education and an inclusive culture. I am proud of the progress we have already made toward those shared goals, and I feel confident that we will not only meet them but also surpass them.”
Meehan has succeeded in accelerating the growth of UMass Lowell amid economic downturn. UMass Lowell was able to expand in ways that were needed for the campus and that have benefited the local economy. The university contributes over $490 million annually to the regional economy, including over $400,000 in revenue to the city of Lowell and employs about 1,400 people. “Since I became Chancellor, we have opened eight new buildings, including six that were brand-new, in a single year, including $80-million technology research facility, $40-million academic building for social sciences and nursing, two residence halls housing nearly 1,000 students and two parking garages. In other cases, we were able to acquire existing, underutilised properties at a good price, and, by renovating them, not only bringing them into full use quickly but also meeting the needs of our growing campus and the community,” Meehan says.
Those acquisitions include a former hotel that is now the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, which provides housing for 500 students; year-round lodging for the public as well as event space for the campus and the public; and a 7,000-seat sports and entertainment venue, now called the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, which has gone from losing $1 million under its previous ownership to drawing record crowds for athletic events and concerts and is ranked among the top venues in the world for its size. “Our third major acquisition was the site of a former hospital, where a brand-new, $95-million student centre is now under construction and is set to open for the fall 2014 semester.
Unique education experience
According to Meehan, UMass Lowell offers students a unique, high-quality education experience that positions them for success after graduation. He explains: “We pride ourselves in small class sizes to provide plenty of direct interaction with our highly qualified faculty. We offer students the chance to conduct research with our faculty as well, even at the undergraduate level, which is rare. We offer one-of-a-kind programmes like DifferenceMakers, which helps the students develop entrepreneurial skills and challenges them to apply those skills to create a solution to a business or community problem. We place students in internships and co-ops with businesses and non-profit organisations to help our students gain valuable, real-world experience and make professional connections to help them meet their career goals after graduation.”
UMass Lowell students on the lawn of the Campus Recreation Center, which offers intramural sports programs, exercise classes, a workout room and more to all UMass Lowell students and faculty
“Outside the classroom,” says Meehan, “we have a vibrant campus life that includes over a dozen Division I sports teams and 200 student-run organisations focused on community service, common interests and the diverse cultural backgrounds of our students, who represent over 50 nations around the world.”
Meehan has a candid view on education offered at UMass Lowell. “At its best, I believe education is a combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience that prepare students to be work-ready, life-ready and world-ready. At UMass Lowell, we strive to reach all of those goals by offering our students top educational resources and facilities, instruction and research opportunities with our outstanding faculty and real-world experience like internships and co-ops.”
UMass Lowell does all of this while also offering the students one of the best returns on investment (ROI) in the nation. The university ranks No. 10 in the nation among all public colleges and universities on ROI and 50th among all institutions, public and private. Forbes magazine ranks UMass Lowell 10th on its Top 25 Best Value Colleges. “We want our students to leave here not only with an excellent education but also without a lifetime of debt,” the Chancellor says.
Meehan wants to see UMass Lowell continue on the upward path it has been on since 2007. The university is still growing, both in terms of enrollment and the campus, as well as in the rankings. While the UMass system is ranked among the Top 200 institutions in the world by the Times of London, it is ranked 158th among the top national universities in the United States, and 85th among the Top 100 public institutions by US News and World Report.
UMass Lowell’s move up the national universities list – 25 places in just three years – is the second fastest in the United States, the university’s plan is to continue that climb by building its reputation for high-quality education. “In addition to the rankings, we are also planning to construct a new building for the university’s Manning School of Business in the next few years. It will be named the Pulichino Tong Business Building after a UMass Lowell graduate and his wife, both of whom are successful in business and who donated $4 million for student scholarships. Raising funds for student scholarships and physical improvements to the campus is among our top priorities. The university’s endowment has grown from $33 million in 2007 to $66 million in 2014, and we intend to continue to build that up.”
Meehan on India
India is such a large country – the largest democracy in the world. There are many colleges and universities in India that offer the opportunity for collaboration in research and education of faculty and students. In forging those partnerships, we will continue to be selective to ensure we are working with institutions of the highest quality.
Over 300 students, both graduate and undergraduate, from India are already studying at UMass Lowell, which has an international reputation for quality in areas ranging from science and engineering to business and social sciences to humanities and health sciences. The university offers quality at a competitive price than private institutions.
Many of UMass Lowell’s most successful graduates are from India, such as Ravi Deecee, publisher of DC Books, and Harish Hande, a social entrepreneur who is expanding the availability of solar energy across India.
The university’s outreach programmes for India include several partnerships with some of the outstanding institutions in the country. Here are a few joint programmes:
- This spring, two third-year students from Bengal Engineering and Science University will come to UMass Lowell to conduct research with faculty in the College of Sciences and our hope is that they will join our doctoral programme.
- We are working with the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur and Gandhinagar, on similar science research opportunities and we have been invited to send our students to IIT-Gandhinagar for a study-abroad programme.
- We recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Heritage Institute of Technology and hope to develop a summer research programme involving their students
- Several UMass Lowell faculty and others from academic affairs recently participated in a conference at Auro University, where they presented papers on experiential learning, quality education and services management. Auro is among our international partners
- Two UMass Lowell professors brought 10 students to study abroad in India over our recent winter break and conducted a course in entrepreneurship with students from our university and their counterparts in Hubli.