Examiner Local Editorial: UDC has strayed far from its roots

Opinion,Local Editorial

Since 1851 when its predecessor was first chartered as the Normal School for Colored Girls, the University of the District of Columbia's primary mission has been to provide city residents with a quality, accessible and affordable postsecondary education. UDC is accessible, but it has largely failed at its other two objectives.

In her October 2012 report to Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, UDC Board of Trustees chairwoman Elaine Crider outlined a council-mandated "right-sizing" that will eliminate 100 jobs and save $8.5 million a year. UDC currently spends $35,152 per student, which is 66 percent more than comparable institutions of higher education. UDC officials pledge to get that down to "only" 25 percent about comparable to other schools in the next five years.

The long overdue layoffs will primarily target UDC's bloated executive, administrative and managerial staff, which is an eye-popping 315 percent larger than the national average. The lavish lifestyle of former UDC president Allen Sessoms, who ran the university from 2008 to 2012, illustrates why UDC spends two-thirds more with much poorer academic results.

Before he was fired in December, the Yale-educated physicist was paid $295,000 a year in addition to free use of a $1.6 million home and a Lincoln Navigator. FOX 5 reported that Sessoms also racked up "tens of thousands of dollars on high-priced hotels and airfare" -- including a $7,952 first-class ticket to Egypt.

Meanwhile, nearly 80 percent of UDC students applied for needs-based financial aid but only 11 percent of those needs were fully met, with the average scholarship or grant award only $2,775, according to U.S. News & World Report. This partially explains UDC's dismal 48 percent freshman retention rate.

It also means that most of the city's $65 million subsidy has been lining the nests of well-paid faculty and administrators, not helping needy students.

Sessoms oversaw one of the most comprehensive reorganizations of UDC in more than three decades, hiking tuition, renovating the campus and separating the open-admissions community college from the four-year "flagship" to disguise UDC's pathetic 12 percent graduation rate, which is lower than some for-profit diploma mills. But by fall 2011, four-year enrollments were down 10 percent.

Crider acknowledged that "component parts of the University system have not performed well in the past" despite over-staffing and promised future improvement. But it was also a tacit admission that UDC has strayed very far from its roots.

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