Report urges separation from UDC for new 2-year college

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

An independent report scheduled for release Friday contends that the new D.C. community college must break free of the University of the District of Columbia if it is to be embraced as "credible and legitimate" by a business community that has lost faith in UDC.

The report, initiated by a group of D.C. leaders, praises UDC administrators for splitting the institution into two- and four-year schools in the 2009-10 academic year, but it says the community college must become fully independent to succeed. A D.C. Council committee is slated to discuss the findings Friday morning.

"There's a whole lot of folks in the community very skeptical about the ability of the community college to succeed unless it separates itself, and quickly," said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed, a nonprofit group that commissioned the study with Greater Washington Research at Brookings, part of the Brookings Institution. JBL Associates prepared the report.

UDC leaders said they agree with some of the findings but do not think the community college has to break completely with UDC to succeed. What's more important, they said, is to produce results that will win over skeptics.

"In anything we do, the proof's in the pudding," said Jonathan Gueverra, chief executive of the Community College of the District of Columbia, who reports to UDC President Allen L. Sessoms. "If we produce graduates who can be successful, then that changes everything."

With the start of classes in August, the District's only public college divided into two entities: a two-year community college with open admissions and a four-year university with higher tuition and entry standards.

UDC had long struggled to operate as both a two- and four-year institution and, to most observers, succeeded at neither mission. UDC was saddled with the higher administrative and faculty costs of a four-year college but, because of its open enrollment policy, attracted students more typical of a community college. Only 17 percent of bachelor's degree seekers graduated in six years.

The 60-page report, "Building a Strong, Independent DC Community College," pulls no punches, stating that UDC "has been troubled by a distrustful faculty, high administrative overhead, poorly maintained and outdated facilities, chronic mismanagement and internal dissension, and unacceptably low completion and graduation rates."

The split is considered a step toward solving those problems. The community college can focus on remediation, needed by more than 70 percent of students who entered the old UDC. The university, largely pruned of remedial students, can focus on raising the graduation rate.

Sessoms hired Gueverra, established separate courses and provided 39 full-time faculty members for the two-year college, which serves about 3,200 students at the main Van Ness campus and at several satellites, according to Gueverra.

But those are "only the first of many steps," the report states. Rather than report to Sessoms and the UDC board, the community college should be separate in its leadership, budget and accreditation, the report says. The report encourages partnerships with successful community colleges in the Washington suburbs.

Gueverra said he and Sessoms endorse a separate administration for the community college, but not necessarily an independent board. "It is possible to construct a board such that there are people on the board who deal specifically with the community college," he said.

The report contends the current structure will foster unhealthy competition between the community college and the four-year university and "tensions" over such matters as hiring and academic prestige.

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