Johns Hopkins University will close its graduate programs in Rockville by the summer of 2020, dealing a blow to the county’s ambitions of expanding higher education opportunities.
The university plans to consolidate the Center for Biotechnology Education on Medical Center Drive with the program’s main campus in Baltimore, said Leslie Ford Weber, the director of campus, government and community affairs for Johns Hopkins in Montgomery County.
About 275 students attend classes at the Rockville campus, which offers six master’s degrees in biotechnology and health sciences. But four of the degrees are available entirely online, and the same programming is offered in Baltimore at the university’s Homewood campus, which is home to thousands more students.
“I think we do want to enhance and streamline the programs,” Ford Weber said. “But the university has also made some pretty significant investments in student affairs, and I think our students will have a richer campus experience in Baltimore than here.”
Johns Hopkins will begin consolidating the programs in May, when full-time students finish their coursework. Classes in Montgomery County will end for good at the end of the summer term in mid-August, according to Ford Weber.
The university will retain the Montgomery County location of its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a senior education program on the same site in Rockville. Weber emphasized that Johns Hopkins is still invested in local medical services, including Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.
But the news was disappointing to county leaders, many of whom have repeatedly emphasized the importance of higher education in economic development. In September, the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation hired consultant Ken Ulman to attract investment from the University System of Maryland.
County Executive Marc Elrich has rejected recent affordable housing targets, saying Montgomery County can dramatically expand high-paying jobs by connecting companies with educated workers. Council Member Hans Riemer has also focused on the importance of a “tech talent pipeline” to attract new businesses.
“Montgomery County has had a long-standing vision of Johns Hopkins having a real presence here,” Riemer said on Monday. “That really didn’t come to fruition, and I think it’s an example of how we need to be working a lot harder on economic development and higher ed.”
Elrich did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
The Rockville location of the Center for Biotechnology Education opened in 1992, Ford Weber said — three years after Johns Hopkins purchased more than 100 acres near Gaithersburg with visions of a new research campus.
In 2011, a concept sketch for the “Belward Farm Research Campus” was incorporated into the master plan for the Great Seneca Science Corridor in western Montgomery County.
County leaders have long hoped that Johns Hopkins would develop the land and expand commercial growth in the corridor, Riemer said. But nearly a decade since then, the university hasn’t advanced plans to establish a new research institute in Montgomery County.
Ford Weber said Johns Hopkins would “continue to explore” its options for developing the property. But the delay — coupled with the closure in Rockville — was “unfortunate,” Riemer said, given the county’s original hopes for the university.
“They aren’t proceeding as we hoped they would,” he said. “So news that they’re withdrawing is really a shame.”
Local leaders have attributed a lack of growth in the Great Seneca Science Corridor to other factors, including stalled plans for a high-speed bus line intended to ease congestion along nearby I-270. Riemer suggested that the university might have expanded faster if it had a “stronger economy to plug into” — part of the challenge for legislators as they work to attract new businesses.
“This emphasizes that it’s a good idea for us to be pursuing higher education as an economic driver,” Riemer said. “And I think there’s even more urgency now that a couple hundred researchers won’t be here in the county anymore.”