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, September 26, 2012

Whither UDC?

Today's Post has an editorial, "Can UDC make the grade?," about a new report about "the myriad challenges facing the city's public university."   From the article:

ASPIRATIONS FOR THE University of the District of Columbia (UDC) have always been greater than its realities. D.C. officials over many decades have tolerated the school’s manifest problems while pouring tens of millions of dollars into it. But, as a new report makes painfully clear, the District can no longer afford to look the other way. It is time for this institution to serve the real needs of city residents and not the conceits of political or educational officials.

The D.C. Council appointed an advisory board to study how to strengthen the university’s community college, which opened in 2009, but the board concluded it could not do so without also confronting UDC’s problems. It also concluded that eventually the community college should be spun off as an independent school with its own accreditation but that it “can only be as strong as its host institution.”

I know I've blogged about this issue a few times over the years.  I offer some alternatives that don't seem to be on the radar for consideration.


1.  DC could do with its state university what the State University of New York system does with certain "state colleges" like Agriculture or Environmental Sciences and Forestry.

While SUNY has plenty of state universities, Cornell, now a private university, was originally created to be the state's land grant university (ag school), and this function has continued, where SUNY partially funds the operation of four colleges there.  The College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, which was originally at Cornell but there was some sort of falling out with the state 100 years ago, moved to Syracuse, although it has a relationship with Syracuse University technically it's a separate institution.

They call them "statutory colleges" and they are mostly at Cornell, although there is an additional agricultural college at Alfred University, and ESF does have a relationship with Syracuse. 

In all cases, students at these colleges pay state tuition, lower than the tuition for the private university, and they are able to attend classes in the other colleges.  At Cornell and Alfred, students in the statutory colleges are treated the same as any other student, living in the same dormitories.  ESF has housing separate from Syracuse University.

What this would mean is that DC would contract with one or more of the city's private universities to provide slots to DC undergraduate students, say for at least a few schools, Liberal Arts, Engineering, Fine Arts, etc.

For example, one way to help the Corcoran Gallery stay in the city would be to designate the Corcoran Art College as the city's 'statutory college" for art and design, and pay for slots for DC-resident undergraduates.

It could also do the same for graduate and professional schools, although the David Clarke School of Law could continue as a standalone institution, or move to a university in the city that doesn't have a law school (e.g., Trinity) and be the "state" law school.

You would have to go program by program to figure out what to do.  E.g., if you want a "state program" in Hotel and Hospitality studies, Howard University has such a program and could be contracted with.  Howard and CUA have Engineering Schools, etc.

2.  Similarly, as soon as there were calls for creating a DC community college, I suggested that DC attempt to do this in conjunction with either or both Montgomery College, the community college system in Montgomery County, Maryland or with Prince George's County Community College, to leverage economies of scale and efficiencies, and to prevent the creation of another set of highly paid administrators managing a relatively small college.

(E.g., DC's public schools superintendent--chancellor--makes more money than the superintendents running Montgomery, Fairfax, and PG County public school systems, even though those systems are much larger.)

Instead the powers-that-be (e.g., various reports from the DC Appleseed Center, such as Transition Plan for an Independent D.C. Community College) recommend that the community college be separated from UDC.

3.  A third option would be to attempt to improve UDC, but the question is how much money has to be spent to do so and would there be a reasonable return on investment?  One way to do so would be to move the campus to the St. Elizabeths campus, which would be a perfect place for a university, as a kind of reboot.

I would probably recommend the statutory college direction instead for typical university programs, and work very hard to do the unprecedented action of merging community college systems across state lines.

Neither is likely to happen however.

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