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UDC president, longest-serving in school history, to step down in 2023

Ronald Mason Jr. has been at the helm of the University of the District of Columbia since 2015

The main campus of the University of the District of Columbia in Northwest Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The president of the University of the District of Columbia, the city’s sole public university and community college, will step down in 2023, officials said Thursday.

Ronald Mason Jr. has been at UDC’s helm since 2015, making him the school’s longest-serving president since its founding in 1976.

“It was time,” Mason said in an interview. He arrived at UDC for a three-year term and will have been at the university for eight years by the time his contract ends next June. “The end of the contract seemed like a good time to think about the next adventure,” he said.

Still, the decision to leave the presidency was not one Mason took lightly, he told the campus in a message. When he arrived to UDC, the school was in crisis. An audit in 2014 found school officials had awarded student loans in excess of federal limits and did not to obtain high school transcripts and proof of residency needed for the government’s student aid programs.

In a city dominated by private universities, UDC makes a pitch to District residents: ‘We are affordable and high quality.’

The school set forth a cost-saving plan that called for the elimination of nearly two dozen programs and the addition of majors to better align with the District’s economic priorities. In 2017, city auditors reported the school had cleared the financial aid hurdles, but said the school’s degree offerings were still not aligned with the city’s needs.

Under Mason’s leadership, the school has developed programs that are better suited for the city, he said. After it lost accreditation in 2015, the school’s associate nursing program is now back and fully accredited. UDC has also added a cybersecurity degree, more offerings in information technology, and secured federal funding for a teacher training institute.

School officials are also developing an early college program at Anacostia High School, Mason said.

“All the pieces are here to go to the next level,” Mason said. “I think we’re becoming more and more of an attractive package.”

During Mason’s tenure the school’s research expenditures have nearly tripled and at least 100 new faculty members have been recruited over the past five years, he said. In December, the university landed its largest private donation, a $2.3 million gift that will be used to fund scholarships.

The school, as part of a six-year capital improvement plan, is also preparing to purchase a building in Congress Heights for its workforce development programs and expand the community college campus in Northeast Washington.

The University of the District of Columbia lands a record $2.3 million gift

The next step, Mason said, will be “starting to connect the pipeline” between vocational programs, the community college and four-year university.

Still, there are challenges. UDC, like other campuses throughout the country, has been dealing with an enrollment plunge.

During fall 2010, UDC enrolled 5,855 students in its undergraduate, graduate, law school and community college programs, data from the university show. Just 4,456 students were enrolled in fall 2019.

Mason said one factor affecting enrollment is the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant, a program through which students in the District can receive up to $10,000 per year to go to a public university outside the city or up to $2,500 to enroll at private historically Black college or university, or private campus in the Washington metro area.

Enrollment has continued to slump during the pandemic, as UDC reported 3,953 students during the fall 2020 semester and 3,476 students in fall 2021 — with the community college taking the biggest hit. Across the country, community college head counts have dropped nearly 15 percent between fall 2019 and 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Community colleges in D.C. area and beyond are contending with an enrollment crisis

But, things could be looking up. The number of applications, admitted students and registered students has increased from last year, Mason said.

He said he is still weighing his future but teaching at UDC’s law school, where he is a tenured professor, is an option.

“This is not the end, and certainly not goodbye,” he told the campus in a statement. “We still have significant work to do, and I look forward to doing it together — as we always have.”