UDC’s staff and facilities are too large, report says

September 19, 2012

The University of the District of Columbia has a staff and facilities too large for a stagnant student body — a costly issue that threatens efforts to turn the university’s expanding community college into an independent entity, according to a new report by a city-appointed advisory board.

The advisory board found that it could not make recommendations about the community college without examining UDC, the report says. The board was created after Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and others said they were concerned about the future of UDC and wanted to make the community college an independent institution.

Opened in 2009, the community college “can only be as strong as its host institution, and . . . UDC’s current financial health is under serious strain, ” according to the report.

The report comes a few weeks before the Oct. 1 deadline for the university to submit to the D.C. Council a plan detailing how it would reorganize. Under legislation that went into effect in June, UDC also has a Nov. 1 deadline to submit an application to an accrediting body so that the community college can become a branch campus of the university, which the advisory board chairman, Walter Smith, called “the easiest part.”

“After that, it gets harder,” Smith said at Gray’s biweekly news conference Wednesday.

UDC, which was established in 1851, has major “cost drivers,” such as high salaries and a dwindling enrollment at the flagship, the report says.

Personnel costs make up about 70 percent of UDC’s budget. “Nearly three-quarters of UDC’s faculty are full or associate professors as compared with a 40 percent average for peer institutions. Salaries for all faculty are 33 percent above the median salary at peer institutions,” the report says, using data from an analysis of the 2010-11 school year.

The analysis, completed by an outside firm, found that UDC’s expenditures could be slashed by more than $51 million if its costs per full-time student were on par with similar schools.

Gray said his administration is interested in the university’s success because of the role it plays educating city residents and helping them get jobs.

The city also provides about half of the school’s revenue, he said. “There are things that have to be done there to make the university live within its means,” Gray said. “We expect the full cooperation of the administration and the trustees.”

UDC President Allen Sessoms received a draft of the report earlier this week, said Alan Etter, vice president of university relations and public affairs, in a phone interview. He said the university already had a task force looking at the right-sizing of facilities and staff.

“This has been going on for a year,” he said. “The bottom line here is that we have to ensure every student has a good educational experience. It’s an efficiency initiative.”

Etter declined to provide specifics on how the university will downsize. “Everything is on the table,” he said. “But right-sizing is not about laying off. . . . It’s trying to see ways you can economize.”

While enrollment at the flagship UDC is declining, the community college continues to grow. In fall 2011, community college enrollment outnumbered enrollment at the university, 2,529 to 2,129.

Etter said school officials and trustees have met with students and employees to get their input in the right-sizing plan.

A D.C. Council committee, which is led by Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who attended UDC, is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the plan Oct. 11.

John Hill, former chief executive of the Federal City Council and a member of the advisory board of the community college, said UDC’s problems are systemic and cannot be blamed on “any particular group.”

Some university supporters have pointed to union contracts as the reason the school cannot scale back its staff.

“The issues of the university operating at a level above its resources is not a new issue,” Hill said.

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