In Case You Missed It: Transforming UDC and the Community College for the Future
Editor’s Note: Some District’s Dime readers did not get this blog on Wednesday so we are sending again! Thanks to authors Walter Smith and Brooke DeRenzis of DC Appleseed.
What should the future of public higher education look like for DC?
That is a question that the leadership of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), our city’s elected officials, and community members have been wrestling with these past few months—and it was the topic of a D.C. Council hearing this past Monday. One thing is certain: UDC needs to make significant changes to respond to financial pressures, to changing enrollment at the newly created community college and flagship university and to the needs of students who rely on the school to provide higher education that is both intellectually challenging and vital preparation for their careers.
UDC has undergone a major reorganization over the past three years into a “university system” consisting of a higher-tuition flagship university with admissions standards and a lower-tuition open-admissions community college. As a result, UDC now houses two similarly-sized academic divisions – the flagship and the community college –which share a legal identity, accreditation, key administrative functions, and resources. Because these two schools have different missions, programs, faculty, and staff, UDC’s leadership and elected officials are looking to make the community college an independent institution while also strengthening the flagship university.
For both schools to succeed and fulfill their academic missions, UDC’s serious financial challenges need to be addressed—and soon. UDC’s cost per full-time student is 66 percent higher than its peers – a figure that reflects the fact that the university’s faculty, staff, administrative systems, and facilities are too large for the size of its student body. In fact, its staff size is 88 percent higher than the national average, and its administrative, executive, and managerial staff size is 315 percent higher than the national average. Unless UDC addresses this high cost structure, it will continue to face operating deficits and dwindling reserves, and it will not be able to achieve the dual goals of a strong flagship university and an independent community college.
That’s why an advisory board chaired by DC Appleseed, which was tasked with developing a plan to transition the community college to independence, recommended that UDC create a right-sizing plan, and why the D.C. Council passed legislation setting an October 1st deadline for the completion of such a plan. Both the flagship university and the community college are critical to providing our city with a skilled workforce, and the District needs a realistic and fiscally responsible plan for a higher education system that benefits students, employers and the community in general.
The right-sizing effort is intended to put UDC as a whole on sound financial footing, to strengthen the flagship, and to ensure that UDC can move the community college to independence. UDC’s board has taken a first step toward developing a plan to bring its costs more in-line with those of its peers. On Monday, at the hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Jobs and Workforce Development, UDC board chair Elaine Crider and UDC president Allen Sessoms testified about changes they are planning, including eliminating 110 positions and consolidating the community college operations to one location on the UDC campus in Van Ness.
But, as UDC’s leaders also explained Monday, there is more work to do to complete the right-sizing plan required by the D.C. Council. In particular, UDC must still finalize plans to eliminate and restructure programs, determine how to use existing facilities and where to locate community college programs, complete a compensation analysis, and conduct an internal review of senior management staffing. UDC testified that they will need several more months to complete such a plan. However, the university’s immediate financial challenges, including an anticipated operating shortfall this fiscal year, make it critical to pursue this effort with urgency.
We urge the UDC board to include the following steps in its path forward:
- A timeline that explains when it will complete each of the outstanding elements of the plan required by the Council’s legislation.
- A list of changes that can be made immediately in addition to the 110 position reductions already contemplated; this should include an assessment of changes that might be made in the use of existing facilities.
- A plan for successfully moving the community college to independence as right-sizing occurs; this should include an explanation for how the proposal to relocate the community college to UDC’s campus fits with the plan for independence.
The writers work for D.C. Appleseed, which conducts public policy research and analysis on issues impacting the District of Columbia. Walter Smith is executive director of DC Appleseed and chaired the advisory board tasked with developing a transition plan for an independent community college for DC. Brooke DeRenzis is a project director at the organization.