The District’s public institution of higher education is having trouble keeping its alphabet soup down.
The University of the District of Columbia was informed this month by its president, Allen L. Sessoms, that under no circumstances should the institution’s relatively new community college be called “CCDC,” or the Community College of the District of Columbia.”
Rather, the not-yet-three-year-old institution shall be known as the “University of the District of Columbia Community College.” Or, if you prefer, “UDC-CC.”
Clunky, indeed, especially considering that the community college has spent two-and-a-half years branding itself as CCDC, complete with its very own Capitol dome logo.
Why the moniker mania? “It really is more of a perception issue than anything else,” said university spokesman Alan Etter, who added that the clarification is meant to assuage federal officials and an accreditation body sensitive to any false advertising.
But the name conflict belies a deeper conflict over the future of the District’s long-struggling system of public higher education, which underwent an upheaval in 2009 with the creation of the separate community college under UDC aegis.
That decision followed years, if not decades, of suggestions that the District would benefit from a separate community college focused on training District residents for the city’s workforce, rather than it become subsumed into the unwieldy, unfocused, oft-mismanaged institution UDC has become.
Like pretty much all interested parties, Sessoms supports independence, Etter said. But what form that independence will take and how soon it will happen has become a contentious matter, one that will be settled in the coming months. Will the community college be its own institution, with its own budget and board? Or will it be part of a “university system” headed by Sessoms and without its own board of trustees?
And if the community college is separate, how swiftly should it emerge from UDC’s maw?
Behind the scenes, Sessoms and the community college’s chief executive officer, Jonathan Gueverra, aren’t getting along, most observers agree, because Gueverra signed on to create a standalone school while Sessoms has sought to slow down the separation process. Some community college students have started to object to the slow-walk style, mounting an online petition drive to keep UDC from meddling with CCDC. But real obstacles remain to spinning off the community college — the accreditation process can take as long as five years, and without that in place, students would not be eligible for federal student aid.
Still, the political will is squarely on the side of an independent college.
The high-powered think tankers that sponsored the most rigorous and influential study of the issue — D.C. Appleseed and the Brookings Institution — have advocated that a community college needs to operate outside UDC’s control to reliably turn out graduates ready to fill the city’s jobs.
During the D.C. Council’s handling of city budget legislation this year, Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) inserted language taking the first steps toward independence — creating a five-member advisory board charged with coming up with a plan to spin off the college. Its work is supposed to be completed by Nov. 28.
Brown has since relinquished oversight of the university to Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who was cagey on committing to Sessoms-style independence (where CCDC would report to UDC’s president) or Gueverra-style independence (where CCDC would be accountable to its own board).
“We are still trying to figure out the exact definitions of independence,” Brown said. “My job first is to put all the facts on the table and then we’ll get folks figuring out the best structure that works for everyone.” He said there will “absolutely” be hearings on the issue come fall.
Pro bono consultants are going over the UDC books, determining what independence for the community college would cost and what kind of realignment of the $160 million university budget would be necessary.
Notably, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) remains a stalwart backer of community college independence, leaving Sessoms awfully isolated — especially now that the UDC board is newly packed with Gray appointees.
Meanwhile, Sessoms’ memo apparently hasn’t completely wended its way through the UDC hierarchy — more than a week later, there are still numerous references to “CCDC” on the community college’s Web site, including its address.
Nor has it been excised from Gray’s vocabulary. The mayor, spokeswoman Linda Wharton Boyd said in a statement, “has always supported CCDC being independent.”