AT THE heart of the strategic plan adopted three years ago to turn around the University of the District of Columbia was the recognition that it could no longer attempt to be all things to all people. The long-troubled institution realized finally that its core mission must be preparing students for high-demand area jobs and that it needed to overhaul its educational program to make it more relevant. Unfortunately, as a recent audit of UDC makes clear, the goal is more easily pronounced than accomplished.
“Mixed” was the assessment of a report released March 13 by D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson of the university’s progress in implementing its ambitious Vision 2020 plan to reshape the school and cut costs. Auditors found the university to be on the right track but falling short in five areas, most notably a failure to align its undergraduate degree programs with identified economic priorities in the District. In other words, offering courses that actually prepare students for careers in high-demand areas such as hospitality management. Also found wanting were the activities of the university’s Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning program.
The university’s graduation rate is a dismal 15 percent, and only 69 percent of full-time students entering in fall 2014 returned to take classes the following year. Consider that D.C. taxpayers pick up the tab for a good chunk of the school’s operating budget and the inevitable question should arise of what purpose is being served and how long the city’s forbearance will — or should — last.
The strongest argument for giving UDC more time to right itself lies in its new leadership. Ronald Mason, formerly president of the Southern University and A&M College System, took office in July 2015 and has gotten generally good reviews for steering UDC through what many had thought would be a challenging accreditation process. He has brought in new leadership, including for the community college which should be central to the school’s mission, and has tackled some longstanding issues — including problems in the management of federal loans and grants — that have impeded change. Time — he estimated five years to us — will tell if he succeeds where his predecessors have failed in making the District’s only public university a place that educates students effectively.