UDC says community college at risk of cuts unless it gets $8 million from District

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 10:08 PM

Officials at the University of the District of Columbia say they might have to scale back its recently launched community college unless it immediately receives $8 million from the D.C. government, putting new pressure on city leaders struggling to close a growing budget shortfall.

The request, which is shining light on a deal struck last year between D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) when he was council chairman, raises questions about whether taxpayers can sustain the university's rapidly expanding mission.

Since UDC launched a community college two years ago, enrollment has soared: More than 2,500 students attend two-year academic and job training programs at multiple locations in the city. But UDC officials say they have been forced to spend more than $18 million to get the community college off the ground, nearly depleting the flagship four-year college in Northwest of its reserve funds.

"We want people to know there is no more money in this piggy bank," said Allen L. Sessoms, president of UDC. "If they want to keep this going, we need money, and it's going to cost money."

Sessoms, who is hoping the council and Gray can fulfill his request in the next couple of weeks, said some programs that city leaders are turning to for help in lowering the city's unemployment could disappear.

But news of the university's request appeared to catch Gray and several council members by surprise - many said they weren't sure how the city can afford to give the university more as they work to close a projected deficit of more than $400 million in the fiscal 2012 budget.

"I am not aware of it," Gray said Tuesday of the request. "Obviously, we are ecstatic the community college has grown so rapidly, but we are also tremendously strapped at this stage."

In addition to more money for the current fiscal year, Sessoms said he will ask the council to boost the city's annual support to the university by $8 million or $10 million to help fund a 50 percent enrollment gain at the community college this year.

Several other council members said lobbyists for the university have said they need the $8 million by March 1 to avert disruptions this school year.

"It's just baffling that we find out halfway through the fiscal year that there were no operating dollars associated with this institution," said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). "This is not just a funding issue in 2011; it's a funding issue in 2012 and beyond."

As council chairman and on the campaign trail last year during his bid for mayor, Gray became one of the top advocates for a college that has struggled to distinguish itself from other area universities.

With prodding and support from Gray, UDC launched the community college in 2009 to break up its two- and four-year programs. Gray and other city leaders have called the college, headquartered at 801 N. Capitol St. NE, the "missing link" in efforts to lower unemployment and give D.C. high school students another option for higher education.

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