Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making hard choices in the beginning makes programs more sustainable in the end (even if harder to create)

DC created a community college, to help the University of the District of Columbia better focus on job training type programs vs. traditional four year degree programs and graduate education. This was suggested in a 2009 report published by the Brookings Institution and was followed up by an op-ed and other coverage in the Washington Post.
The issue and links to coverage including an op-ed by Alice Rivlin and Walter Smith are in the October 2008 blog entry, "Thinking Regionally: Community Colleges."

At the time, I criticized the path taken by the University. I suggested that instead of creating a new community college, why not try to develop a community college jointly with either or both Montgomery College and Prince George's County Community College, comparable to how Northern Virginia jurisdictions have combined to offer one community college system across their geography in the Northern Virginia Community College system (Jill Biden is teaching there...).

This was suggested by the Brookings report (but not in the op-ed in the Post) which called for working with one or more suburban community colleges during the set up period, but along the path of creating a fully autonomous and independent exclusively DC institution. This was rejected because it would be hard to set up. From the executive summary:

While Options 2 and 3 both result in independence for CCDC, they differ primarily in the strategy by which they reach scale. The project team considered political realities, financial limitations, legal requirements, employer needs, community wishes, effects on UDC, and organizational interests to determine the best way forward to achieve the stated goals. The project team is also aware that, due to the rapid pace of change at UDC/CCDC, some of the details in the report may be out of date by the time the report is released but that the overall recommendations will remain valid.

This report concludes that the District should support CCDC's intention to separate from the flagship university, and encourage it to take the fast track to becoming an independently-accredited, autonomous community college with its own Board of Trustees and budget. The report also concludes that CCDC's move toward independence would be significantly advanced by developing appropriate partnerships with one or more of the DC area's three suburban community colleges (Northern Virginia Community College, Montgomery College, and Prince George's Community College) to take advantage of these institutions' resources and reputations and quickly expand CCDC's capacity. Such partnerships could be the start of a regional consortium of community colleges in the DC area. Accordingly, the report recommends that CCDC pursue Option 3, which we call the "Independence Plus Partnership Option."

Sure it would have been hard to create. But why create another administrative structure, deans, etc., and instead offer DC students the opportunity to study at multiple campuses that are already extant, and likely the opportunity to have a broader array of educational and technical opportunities, because of the greater total resources made available to students.

-- Montgomery College has three campuses (one is close by in Takoma Park-Silver Spring) with 60,000 full and part-time students.

-- PG County Community College has 37,000 students, with one main campus in Largo, and three extension campuses, including one at Prince George's Plaza Metro Station.

-- Northern Virginia Community College has 6 campuses, two centers (admittedly not easy for DC residents to get to) and 78,000 students, plus an online learning initiative

Today's Post has an article, "UDC says community college at risk of cuts unless it gets $8 million from District" about the financial problems faced by the DC Community College, because the cost of setting up the institution has been greater than expected, and has used up all the previously allocated monies in advance of the period (four years) that they were expected to be expended, not to mention that there has been heavy demand (which was also covered in this Post article from the summer, "Rising enrollment is a mark of success for new D.C. community college"). From the first article:

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."

For all its aspirations, DC isn't all that big. While a community college is vitally important to workforce development, rushing forward without fully thinking the project through is proving to be problematic. Most of the campuses are satisficed, and the college doesn't have the resources it truly needs to scale up, not to mention it's duplicative.

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