UMass plans to open Springfield satellite campus

By Shelby Ashline

Collegian File Photo

The University of Massachusetts is currently exploring the possibility of opening a satellite center in downtown Springfield, which could be open as soon as the fall of 2014.

The satellite would be used as a way to supplement the UMass experience, said Ann Scales, director of communications at UMass, in a phone interview.

“Many residents [of Springfield] wanted the opportunity to attend classes that were offered by UMass and to get a UMass degree,” Scales said. “[But] Amherst is the closest campus and there’s no [mode of transportation that would] get you there quickly.”

According to an Aug. 6 UMass press release, “the UMass system has more than 75 staffed locations across the Commonwealth that house academic and training and research programs … in addition to the system’s five main campuses.”

UMass-Amherst faculty and staff are involved in over 120 programs from various fields of study in Springfield. They also conduct research, teach and work in administrative capacities in the area.
Springfield, however, was identified in a study conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute as an area with “unmet need.”

The study, conducted at the request of UMass President Robert L. Caret, “identified Springfield as a prime site for a satellite center in part because UMass-Amherst … already has a significant presence there,” according to the press release. Because of its prominence in Springfield, UMass-Amherst would take the lead in overseeing the satellite center.

“One possibility is that [UMass-Amherst] would offer the ‘lion’s share’ … of the programs … and [would provide] lots of administrative support,” Scales said.

However, classes could potentially be provided by several, if not all five, of the UMass campuses, the press release said. Scales further explained that the University hopes to involve other community colleges and institutions in the Springfield area as well.

“UMass-Amherst will be intimately involved in helping run the satellite center and it will be offering particular degrees, programs [and] classes there … [But] I think that the goal and the hope is that we would work with other colleges in the area who may also be part of offering various classes,” Scales said.

The satellite would likely offer onsite classes as well as classes through UMassOnline, according to the press release. The center may offer two-year associate’s degrees that could lead to bachelor degrees.

At this stage in planning, however, there is still much that is not known about the satellite center, including its probable location.

In the initial request for proposed locations for the satellite issued in early August, UMass said it was looking for “25,000 square feet of space suitable for classrooms, faculty offices and other uses, with the option of doubling the amount of space at a later date,” according to the press release.

Though proposals were due Sept. 3, it is not yet clear where the proposed locations for the satellite are or which locations are the most promising.

“There’s a committee that’s been set up to review the proposals,” Scales said. “They’re working with UMass Building Authorities and a realtor with knowledge of Springfield to figure out … if any of the [potential] places are suitable.”

It is also not clear yet where the funds to create and operate the satellite center will come from, or whether new staff will be hired to operate the facility or pulled from other campuses and locations in the UMass system. These are some of many aspects of the satellite center that, according to Scales, are still under consideration.

“We’re sort of taking it one step at a time … We have to find out whether or not we have a suitable location,” Scales said. She added, “We’re [also] looking at what programs we might potentially offer there and what staffing might be available or what … staffing might be required.”

Although there is still much to figure out, UMass and Springfield officials have been talking about creating a satellite for nearly two years, following Caret’s statewide bus tour in October 2011. Caret found that “business and civic groups in various regions across the state that are somewhat distant from UMass campuses expressed interest in seeing UMass expand its presence.”

“We very much want to open a satellite center in Springfield because an essential aspect of our mission of service to the Commonwealth is working to build better lives and futures for people and communities, which is what this would represent,” Caret said in the release.

Henry M. Thomas III, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees and a Springfield resident and civic leader, also said that the project “would enhance the University’s ability to apply its many strengths in ways that help spark the revitalization of this region. It would be a win-win for the University and for the city.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected]