Diversity champion Freeman Hrabowski to retire as UMBC president after 3 decades

Hrabowski co-founded the Meyerhoff Scholars Program to increase the diversity of STEM leaders
By: | August 25, 2021
President Freeman Hrabowski, who will retire from UMBC in spring 2022, brought increased attention to college access over the past three decades. (Marlayna Demond for UMBC)President Freeman Hrabowski, who will retire from UMBC in spring 2022, brought increased attention to college access over the past three decades. (Marlayna Demond for UMBC)

Freeman Hrabowski, the immensely popular University of Maryland, Baltimore County president who championed diversity in higher ed and academic acceleration, will retire this spring after 30 years at the helm.

Under his leadership, UMBC’s enrollment has grown from just over 10,000 students to nearly 14,000 students, annual graduates doubled from about 1,700 to nearly 3,500, and yearly research and development spending soared from $10 million to more than $84 million.

The number of degree programs also doubled and the university’s proportion of Pell grant recipients jumped from 16% to 30.5% during Hrabowski’s presidency.

“We are talking about the problems of low-income students more than ever, we are being honest about not having educated low-income kids,” Hrabowski said in a 2016 interview with University Business“But it’s not enough to talk about the college-going rate or even graduation rates. It’s about what we’ve taught them and the quality of the education: Are they good thinkers, do they have values that we want to see in educated American citizens?”

In the late 1980’s, Hrabowski teamed up with businessman and philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff to found the Meyerhoff Scholars Program to increase the diversity of STEM leaders.

More than 1,400 Meyerhoff Scholars have graduated from UMBC with STEM degrees, making the university the nation’s top producer of Black graduates who earn Ph.D.s in the natural sciences and engineering, according to the National Science Foundation.

These graduates include COVID-19 vaccine developer Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, now an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard University.

(Marlayna Demond for UMBC)(Marlayna Demond for UMBC)

Hrabowski also launched the bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park, which is now home to 130 companies and organizations employing nearly 1,900 people. In 2018, UMBC also became the first No. 16 seed men’s basketball team to beat a No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history.

“There’s no doubt that Freeman’s influence—locally, nationally—is well-earned and deeply felt,” University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman said in a statement. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who so powerfully inspires excellence. And that’s exactly what his legacy is—a commitment to inclusive excellence that lives on in UMBC, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

In the 2016 University Business interview, Hrabowski recounted marching in Martin Luther King’s civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama, in the mid-1960s. He wound up in jail for a week, he said.

“In higher education, we have too often allowed people to stay only with people like themselves,” Hrabowski said. “At UMBC, we are very proactive in encouraging students to know people of different cultures, races and religions. We believe in this fundamental purpose of higher education.”