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.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Speaking of planning for higher education: more on the University of the District of Columbia

The local papers have had articles about how the University of the District of Columbia, DC's public university, has developed a restructuring plan, with plans to close certain academic departments and other downsizing initiatives.

The Examiner article, "UDC plans to cut jobs, programs," provides a link to the document produced by the University and transmitted to the Mayor and City Council. The Post article, "UDC plans cuts, including degree programs, to solve budget problems," lists the departments that will be closed.

It turns out that the City College of San Francisco, a community college, has similar problems and a restructuring initiative is underway there as well. See "City College may end free-classes perk" from the San Francisco Chronicle, "CCSF finances said to be unsustainable" from the SF Examiner.

Interestingly, there is a California state agency set up to assist K-12 schools and community college districts called the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). They have prepared a report on CCSF. Also see "Agency prescribes SF City College trustees tough medicine" from EdSource.

UDC is a public university created by merging three different colleges back in the 1970s. Later, the Antioch College of Law, since renamed the David A. Clarke School of Law, was merged into the institution. UDC is designated both as a land grant institution, receiving some support for (urban) agriculture and related programs and as a historically black college/university.

I mentioned in a blog entry last week, "Whither UDC?," (which was written in response to a Post editorial, "Serious challenges facing UDC," which was a response to a report on UDC that is similar to that on CCSF, see the Post article "UDC's staff and facilities are too large, report says") that rather than restructure, another option is to close the university, and instead contract with other DC-based universities to provide certain programs, such as liberal arts or engineering studies, to DC-residents on a basis comparable to the "statutory colleges' funded by the State University of New York system at Cornell University, Alfred University, and Syracuse University, which are otherwise private universities.

Ironically, the National Journal has an article, "Stephen Trachtenberg Is Not Sorry: Students have more debt than ever before. But the university president who helped propel a tuition arms race says schools are just getting started," about how DC-based George Washington University repositioned and rebranded its "location" within the grouping of in-demand institutions by providing more lifestyle related amenities to students while also increasing tuition to the highest price of any other U.S. university.

Because UDC is a university that predominately serves a population of students who are the first member of their family to attend college, either US-born or immigrants, I think that the statutory colleges route may not be the way to go, because typically universities like GWU (Georgetown and CUA and even American University which is affiliated with the Methodist Church might not be eligible to contract with the city as statutory colleges because of their religious affiliations, which could violate the First Amendment  and separation of church and state) are not set up to deal in a focused manner with students who need a lot of remedial support.

So there is a role for a public college, maybe not a university, in DC, focused on providing excellent support, development, and educational opportunities for first-generation college students, especially people of color.

And probably that requires a transformation effort that is beyond the capabilities of the people currently tasked to run the university, who aren't necessarily skilled in transforming declining institutions.

The model that comes to mind is the minority-focused STEM program at UMBC ("Freeman Hrabowski's UMBC legacy grows as he celebrates 20 years as president" from the Baltimore Sun and "Freeman Hrabowski - The 10 Best College Presidents" from Time Magazine).  UMBC "produces" more African-American students who go on to get advanced degrees in science-related fields than any other college or university in the country.  But there are probably other good models out there that I don't know about.

Note that Trinity Washington University does have a focused mission addressing the needs of women and other students who are first generation college students, studying while working, etc.  Although it too is religiously affiliated and wouldn't be eligible to contract to serve as a type of statutory college for DC.

This kind of repositioning could make sense in context with other city planning efforts at St. Elizabeth's ("Microsoft eyes St. Elizabeths east for 'Innovation Center'" from the Washington Business Journal).  This could be paired with concomitant changes for UDC and even the DCPS schools in Wards 7 and 8 which could adopt technology and science related curricular initiatives not unlike one recently introduced to a middle school in Silver Spring, Maryland ("Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring starts innovative technology course" from the Gazette) in association with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Educational Foundation.

Interestingly, the NJ article has a section on the transformation effort at Midland College, located in Nebraska in Greater Omaha, which as a case study is probably very much relevant to the UDC case. From the article:

Although Trachtenberg hasn’t rethought his approach, he now recommends another course for other schools: specialization. That is, schools on the brink of catastrophe—those where endowments and enrollment numbers augur bankruptcy—can be brought back by offering something that can’t be found elsewhere. As an example of someone who did this masterfully, Trachtenberg points to Ben Sasse, the new president of Midland University in Fremont, Neb.

Before Sasse moved to Nebraska, he was a sharply dressed, ruthless, 37-year-old crisis-management adviser to the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. When he took over what was then called Midland Lutheran College in 2010, he had a history Ph.D. from Yale but no experience in higher-ed administration. The school was on the verge of bankruptcy, so Sasse applied what he learned in Washington (a cousin to Trachtenberg’s vodka analogy): The image of an institution is as important as the institution itself.

Sasse knew students wouldn’t choose Midland because of its academics; smarter applicants would keep applying to “smarter” schools. So Sasse studied what really drives students to colleges like his: scholarships, location, and a chance to play sports. “Some folks—well-meaning idealists—act as if their undergraduates are just brains without bodies,” Sasse says of college recruiters who emphasize academics to the exclusion of everything else. Sasse added bowling, competitive cheer and dance, men’s and women’s ice hockey, lacrosse, and trap shooting to the school’s offerings. He amped up the choir, band, and theater programs. He rebranded Midland’s location in Fremont (population 25,000) as the “rural choice for metro Omaha.” He dropped “Lutheran” from the school’s name because he found the title was deflecting more students than it was attracting. And he added a master’s in education leadership to qualify the school as a university, which he says lures more students than a college.

Through all this, he stayed cost-conscious: Midland offers a four-year graduation guarantee if students make passing grades and don’t switch majors.

The transformation worked. Sasse saw a 76 percent increase in enrollment between his first and second years at Midland. And the school is now out of bankruptcy without a significant rise in tuition.

I have to admit I haven't read the UDC restructuring proposal, but I can guess, based on similar efforts elsewhere in the city at "transformation" that it's not likely to go far enough.

Without a significant transformation in leadership, programs, focus, mission, and even location (e.g., the St. Elizabeth's east campus), UDC is likely to continue to decline.

If that's the case, then I'd recommend the "statutory colleges" route, to provide opportunities for DC residents to attend a public university in their own community.

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At 8:08 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

1. Sorry, if I seem obsessed about credit markets, but again, the student loan problem is very related to UDC's woes.

2. I doubt the nominal religious ties are a bar to the statutory college idea, but I would think you should include Howard.

3. UDC core market is gone and not coming back. Remaining "first-generation college students" are almost at zero; the poor people left aren't going to college and need to focus on high school. So, yes, major strategic rethink necessary. Or shut it down.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. Thanks for this take. I hadn't considered it. I suspect you are absolutely right.

3. I meant to include Howard. I think legally, only GWU and Howard could probably do this legally, or Gallaudet, but that wouldn't work for other reasons. Another one that would want to is the "Graduate School" but they'd need a campus.

U know I am not a lawyer, but just like this case: , which I think is pretty clear, I think it would be very tough to do statutory college relationships with religious institutions (cf. the way that the Archdiocese reconfigured some formerly Catholic schools to be able to participate in the DC public charter school program), at least someone could make a strong argument.

As long as there aren't religious/theology requirements (e.g. as a youth I considered applying to Georgetown but didn't because of the theology requirement) maybe it would be ok.

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

yep, you defintly have a spam problem.

In terms of the two models, the school in Omaha is exactly what is wrong with the credit-fueled model of school expansion.

And to clarify, there is still a need for colleges for "1st generation students"; it is just that need for District residents is much less. Much more of a market for adult eduction/community college model right now.

In terms of 1st amendement establishment clause, always tricky. DC not being a state probably would play a role. (14th amendment?)

However, the texas cheerleader case is more of a coersion test, and a university would be under a lemon and/or endorsment test.

At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't UDC a Land Grant College? Don't know if that has an impact.

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yah, I don't know those tests. But for general interpretation of the Constitution now, DC is treated as an agency of the federal government, although some other laws specifically outline how DC is to be treated.


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