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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Coppin's new leader want to transform University

Reginald S. Avery, chief academic officer of the University Coppin State University the 107-year-old West Baltimore institution, officials announced Tuesday.

Upon the annoucement he vowed to transform the struggling public college into a "first-choice" campus with high academic standards and improved graduation rates.

"In the next three years we should have increased our graduation rate to 50 percent" -- or more than double the current rate, Avery said in a telephone interview from his Spartanburg office, where he has been executive vice chancellor since 2003. "That's ambitious in a short period of time, but that's my goal." The South Carolina native succeeds Stanley F. Battle, who left Coppin this summer after four years to head up North Carolina A&T State University.

Avery inherits a 4,000-student inner city campus invigorated in recent years by an infusion of state funds, but one still struggling to raise student performance and overcome a generation of neglect by the state.

Coppin's student retention and graduation rates -- considered the chief measures of an institution's educational success -- have long been the lowest of Maryland's 13 public campuses, and rates have decreased in recent years.

Twenty-one percent of Coppin students who entered as freshmen in 2000 had received a degree by 2006, according to university system statistics. That compares with a six-year graduation rate of 64 percent in the state system.

Coppin also has the lowest retention and graduation rates among the state's four historically black colleges -- which as a group lag behind Maryland's majority- white institutions.

Leaders at historically black schools have said such comparisons are unfair because their campuses tend to have more first-generation college students and those coming from low-performing urban high schools.

But Avery said he would "like to see us go beyond" the mission of educating primarily students who would not be admitted elsewhere. "I'd like us to be attentive to students who may not be able to go somewhere else, but also strengthen our academic profile to where other students" choose to attend Coppin.

The college's academic struggles come at a time of major state investment in Coppin's infrastructure, turning the North Avenue campus into a construction site.

In the last ten years, the state has spent more than $210 million on capital improvements there, and has pledged an additional $203 million more in the next five years -- or about 20 percent of the state's projected capital budgets for the 13 institutions in the University System of Maryland.

Avery, 60, credits part of the increased success to better student-advising services and "University 101" courses for freshmen with remedial needs. Similar to introductory courses commonly offered at community colleges, University 101 teaches time-management, study habits and financial management skills, as well as basic reading and math.

He said he would like to introduce such a program at Coppin, but would also consider decreas ing the number of students requiring serious remediation. One of his first priorities, he said, would be to conduct a thorough analysis of Coppin's admission systems, and perhaps recommend that some students who would today be admitted be instead referred to a community college.

A native of Greenville, S.C., Avery held various administrative and faculty positions throughout the South, including Kentucky State University, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Benedict College in South Carolina and the University of Tennessee.

He has a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in New York and a bachelor's in sociology from North Carolina A&T. His research focused on the intersection of political science, economics and sociology -- with an emphasis on African-American families. His dissertation dealt with the effects of Boston's school desegregation on black families.

Avery's starting salary is $222,000 a year, plus about $47,000 for housing and car allowances, officials said. That's roughly what Battle was earning.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mississippi black colleges may have been sold a bill of goods

Five years after a landmark college desegregation settlement was approved by a federal judge, only a fraction of a $35 million private endowment for the Mississippi's three historically black universities has been raised.

Getting control of the endowment requires the schools to maintain a nonblack enrollment of more than 10 percent for three years. So far, only Alcorn State University has met that benchmark.

No fundraising campaign has been planned, and state College Board members can't say when one will begin.

"It's going to be very difficult," said Ronald Mason Jr., president of Jackson State University. "Even though (the agreement) says (the College Board members) are supposed to make a good faith effort, it's really not clear what that is and they are very busy people.

"Candidly, I don't know of a lot of foundations or private donors who would be interested in providing resources to help fund the settlement of a lawsuit, which is really what this is," Mason said.

The private endowment and another $70 million public endowment are part of a $503 million settlement stemming from a 1975 lawsuit filed by the late Jake Ayers Sr. The money funds new programs and buildings at Alcorn, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State universities. U.S. District Court Judge Neal Biggers Jr. approved the settlement in 2002. However, some opponents appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal in 2004.

The endowment fundraising is the responsibility of the board, and university presidents have said they will help.

University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat secured the first and only $1 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It's unlikely Khayat will be involved directly in securing additional money for the project, given that his school will announce another fundraiser next month.

"Obviously, we would expect the College Board to live up to the agreement. I am (surprised). If only $1 million of the $35 million has been raised, it's obvious the board has not made it a priority," said 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a lead plaintiff in the case.

Predominantly white schools raising the money won't get the benefit of any of it. If black colleges raised the money, they'd get only a percentage of it. Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State get 28.3 percent each. Jackson State gets 43.4 percent.

On the other hand, if the schools raised money for their own endowments, they'd fully control it.

Raising money has become commonplace in higher education. Sometimes fundraising efforts are announced complete with brochures and catchy slogans. Other requests for money are made quietly. Donations, large and small, are constantly flowing into university accounts.

"We're in the middle of a $50 million campaign for Jackson State, so if I'm raising any money on my own, I'm raising it for the Jackson State campaign," Mason said.

Jackson State has a nonblack population of 7 percent this year, so the earliest it could qualify to get access to the private endowment is the 2011 academic year.

If a new donor willing to donate to the fund were identified, Mason said he'd be the first to hop on a plane and make the pitch. Also willing to help are Roy Hudson, Valley's interim president, and Alcorn's interim president Malvin Williams, who said, "I can't give up my individual campus fundraiser."

Monday, September 24, 2007

BCU investigates missing money

Police are looking into allegations of financial impropriety by a former employee of Bethune-Cookman University, according to a report.

According to the Daytona Beach police report, university President Trudie Kibbe Reed said unauthorized money was being disbursed from a work-aid program sometime between July 1, 2006, and Aug. 31, 2007.

University departments hire students under the program, according to the B-CU Web site.

University officials also are investigating, and the amount taken is unknown, the police report states.

A school news release says "one department budget exceeded allotted funds which then led to an investigation by the university." At least one employee did not follow policy and has been fired, according to the release.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hampton to offer certifcate in homeland security

In response to a rapidly growing need for expertise in homeland security and threat management, Alion Science and Technology announced Monday that it is partnering with Hampton University to offer an online certificate program in homeland security.

The first course, Homeland Security Fundamentals, will begin October 22.

Teresa Walker, assistant provost for technology at Hampton University, said in a statement that the six-week program will provide a detailed foundation in domestic and international terrorism issues and threats as well as examine the strengths and weaknesses of America's terrorist enemies.

The program will also introduce students to domestic and international terrorism issues and threats with an update on the current threat activity.

"The educational thrust is focused on real world events and solutions. This can give students a greater understanding of the issues, and will provide a foundation for career growth," Walker said in a statement.

McLean-based Alion Science and Technology is an employee-owned technology solutions company delivering technical expertise and operational support to the Department of Defense, civilian government agencies and commercial customers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

HBCU Presidents give Ed Secretary an ear full

This year's annual conference of the nation's historically black colleges and universities appeared to be well timed for Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, coming just as President Bush prepared to sign into law the largest increase in federal student aid since the GI Bill. But while Ms. Spellings basked in the praise of several of the college presidents in attendance, many made clear that the Pell Grant increase approved by Congress this month was not nearly enough for their struggling colleges and students, and that they expected her to do more.

"While we applaud the increase in the Pell Grant to $5,400," Melvin N. Johnson, president of Tennessee State University, told Ms. Spellings, "I want to make sure that we truly understand the plight that our students that are attending our institutions really have."

Hundreds of academically qualified students are "purged" from historically black universities because of financial need each year, and many of those who do complete their studies face burdensome levels of loans, Mr. Johnson said.

Some presidents drew specific connections to the war in Iraq, telling the secretary that the Bush administration was spending money overseas that could be spent on colleges to help improve the American economy, and warning that even returning soldiers were not being given enough money to attend college.

The $450-billion spent so far on the war "would support 22 million scholarships at our institutions," said Joe A. Lee, president of Alabama State University.

Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, said that even if Ms. Spellings cannot force change within the administration, she could do more personally to help students understand their college-financing options. He said the continuing state and federal investigations into the student-loan industry had helped highlight abuses, but had not helped students understand what they can do to protect themselves in the face of aggressive lender tactics.

"The country hasn't learned from the mortgage-lending crisis," Mr. Lomax said. "I guess we're just going to wait until we have to learn from the education-lending crisis, when even more Americans are forced to default on loans that they never should have taken out on terms that are inappropriate."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Howard falls 8 spots in latest US News rankings

Howard University tumbled 8 spots spots in the latest rating by U.S. News & World Report. In its annual ranking of American universities Howard is ranked 96th among the nation's "national universities". A year ago Howard was ranked 88th in this category.

Howard remains the only predominately black university in the category and out ranked such well known universities as Oklahoma, Florida State, Oregon, and U of South Carolina.

Only 262 educational institutions in the country qualified as "national universities", which the magazine defined as schools which draw students from across the nation and offer a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ex-Tx Southern pres. billed school for $100,000 bar tab

Former TSU President Priscilla Slade racked up a $100,000 bar tab at Scott Gertner's Skybar and Grille during her tenure and stuck Texas Southern University with the bill, prosecutors said Wednesday.

TSU routinely paid for $100 bottles of wine for Slade and drinks for her friends and staff, despite a prohibition at that time on state monies being spent on alcohol, Assistant District Attorney Donna Goode said.

Slade's former executive assistant, Erica Vallier, said that the rules for purchasing have since changed, but at the time, Slade told her not to worry about the prohibition. She said her boss drank bottles of Far Niente with her friends and staff at expensive bars, such as the Four Seasons bar and the Skybar.

Slade led the historically black university from 1999 to 2005, after being pressed into service from her post as the dean of the business school.

Slade is on trial on charges of misapplication of fiduciary property of more than $200,000, accused of spending school money on personal expenses. If convicted, she faces a punishment ranging from probation to life in prison.

Friday, September 14, 2007

ECSU enrollment tops 3,000 a year early

For the first time in its 116-year history, Elizabeth City State University has topped the 3,000 mark in student enrollment.

The Rev. Henry B. Pickett, chairman of the ECSU Board of Trustees student affairs committee, announced at Tuesday's board meeting that 3,025 students are currently enrolled for the fall semester.

That number is higher than both last fall's enrollment of 2,667 students and an earlier fall 2007 projection of 2,838 students. It also meets a goal set by former university chancellor Mickey L. Burnim, who sought to have 3,000 students enrolled by 2008.

Burnim's goal was in fact in response to a challenge by Molly Broad, the former president of the University of North Carolina System, to raise enrollment to the 3,000 mark by next year.

Not content with reaching that goal, however, Burnim's successor, current Chancellor Willie Gilchrist has called for the university to reach the 4,000 mark.

"We can't rest on our laurels," he told trustees during Tuesday's meeting. "We still need to work."

Graduate enrollment up too

The university has also more than doubled its goal for graduate student enrollment. ECSU has 118 students enrolled in graduate programs this semester. University officials had set a minimum goal of 55 graduate students.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rappers preach financial responsibility at NCA&T

Thousands of fans flocked to N.C. A&T on Saturday to see Jim Jones, Lil' Mo and other hip-hop stars trade lines on money, cars and — FICO scores?

So went the most recent stop of the "Get Your Money Right" tour, a two-hour gathering that brought rap stars, TV personalities and financial experts together for a talk on personal finance.

The overriding themes: Work hard, believe in yourself, watch out for those credit cards and think about your future before you buy pricey stuff.

"You don't need a lot of toys to impress people," said Russell Simmons, co-chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, which ran the event.

Simmons knows a thing or two about making money. He sold his stake in Def Jam Records for a reported $100 million in 1999 and is the chairman and CEO of Rush Communications, an entertainment, fashion and marketing conglomerate.

He brought along hip-hop stars to share their experiences and advice with young people who often leave college with loads of credit-card and student-loan debt. They got lessons on FICO, a type of credit score, and the advantages of buying a home.

The artists also talked about taking responsibility with money, getting rid of debt and saving now to spend later.

"Everybody wants to make it rain, but they never have something saved up for a rainy day," said Lil' Mo, a singer and songwriter.

The stars also acknowledged that, like the audience, they like expensive things.

Jones, a rapper and businessman, told the laughing crowd, "I buy the hottest cars that come out."

Folks with more modest incomes should probably just buy something that gets them to and from work, he advised.

Singer Anthony Hamilton sheepishly admitted that he'd already been to the mall Saturday, returning with "sparkly Nikes that I purchased — on sale!"

"Them shoes you see in the windows are not as important as that light bill you've got to pay next month," Rocsi, co-host of the Black Entertainment Television show "106 & Park," told the women in the audience.

Hip-hop has been criticized for glorifying sex, violence and expensive cars and jewelry, and the audience expressed some of those concerns during a question-and-answer session. But Simmons said demand drives what the industry produces and mentioned several stars who give back through charitable foundations.

"They're good examples of what you can do when you put your head down and go to work," he said.

That didn't convince Jessica Turley, an A&T junior who called some of the comments hypocritical. The industry could put out more wholesome images if it chose to, she suggested.

"If they really wanted us to see it, they'd push for it to be seen," she said.

But Raquel Durham, an A&T sophomore, called the session "very empowering."

"These are people that we look up to," she said, "that we see on TV every day."

Friday, September 07, 2007

NCCU grad plans to donate $1M to college

N.C. Central University has received a $1 million planned gift from 1977 graduate George Hamilton and his wife, Jill.

Hamilton is president and general manager of Dow Coatings, a Dow Chemical subsidiary in Michigan. The George R. Hamilton Endowment Fund will offer support in equal measure to the operations and scholarships of the NCCU School of Business and Department of Athletics.

"This is an important gift as I believe it signals increasing confidence and enthusiasm about the future of N.C. Central University. I am immensely grateful for George Hamilton's generosity and commitment to our goal of providing greater opportunity and support for student success," said NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms.

Hamilton said he felt compelled to give back to the institution that nurtured him and provided him the tools and life lessons needed to make it to the top. "My experience at NCCU was a key enabler of my success," he said.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New engingeering program at UMES off to a great start

Maurice Lanier fell in love with science in elementary school when he saw a robot that moved when people snapped their fingers.

Now the 25-year-old from Oxon Hill is studying to be an electrical engineer, and because of state approval this year of an engineering program at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore, Mr. Lanier will be able to finish school at his home campus.

"It was the best news I'd ever gotten," Mr. Lanier, a junior, said of the state Higher Education Commission's approval of the engineering program for the university. Before, Maryland Eastern Shore students studying engineering completed their bachelor's degrees at the University of Maryland at College Park.

The program was approved at a time when alarms have been raised nationally about the scarcity of black engineers. Only about a dozen historically black colleges have engineering programs that are independent of formerly whites-only schools, and historically black Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta closed its engineering school last year.

"This is going to help us meet the emerging markets," said Ayodele Alade, dean of the university's School of Business and Technology, which includes the new engineering program. The lack of a four-year engineering program on the Eastern Shore, he said, "has impeded the level of progress in this region.

The program will also give the university more prestige, said Charles Williams, vice president for academic affairs.

"It's going to be fantastic for this university," he said, standing outside the program's new flight simulator, where aviation and engineering students learn about the mechanics of flight.

Not everyone is excited about the program, though. The state already has one of the nation's largest engineering schools at a historically black college, Morgan State University in Baltimore. Worried that another engineering program in the state would sap resources, Morgan State opposed the creation of a full program at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore.

"If they put a program there and don't adequately fund that program, that is a concern," said Eugene M. DeLoatch, dean of the School of Engineering at Morgan State, which also offers masters' and doctoral degrees in engineering.

Mr. DeLoatch said he worries Morgan State and Maryland Eastern Shore may both be fighting for the same state dollars, "so we're all going to have mediocre engineers."

"We've got to adequately invest in our educational systems," Mr. DeLoatch said. "If that program opens up with inadequate funding, it's not going to have the effect we'd like it to have. These programs are not inexpensive to run, so I just think we should keep an eye on what it costs to run these programs."