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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Paul Quinn loses accreditation appeal

The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced Monday that an appeals panel had upheld the commission's decision in June to terminate the accreditation of Paul Quinn College. The appeals committee found that in revoking the ailing Dallas college's accreditation, the commission had neither made procedural errors nor made an "arbitrary nor unreasonable" decision -- the only grounds on which an institution can successfully appeal a decision by the commission, under the Southern association's policies. Under SACS rules, Paul Quinn's accreditation is now revoked, which means that students cannot receive federal financial aid. (Most Paul Quinn students now qualify for and receive such aid.) Paul Quinn officials could not be reached for comment on Monday, but a lawyer for the college previously had said that the historically black institution would file a lawsuit in federal court if its appeal was unsuccessful.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Howard grads make more than other HBCU grads

Graduates of Howard University in Washington, D.C., earn higher salaries than graduates of any other Black college or university as well as some premier non-Black institutions of higher learning according to a study by salary research company PayScale.

Howard graduates have an average starting salary of $50,300, ranking the school 100th on the list of colleges and universities with the highest starting salaries. The university ranked just ahead of Penn State, Northwestern, and the University of Texas.

The study found that graduates of Loma Linda University in Los Angeles earn the highest starting salaries of any undergraduate college or university in the nation. Graduates of the university have an average starting salary of $71,400.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology ranks second with graduates earning an average starting salary of $71,100. Other colleges and universities in the top 10 include Harvey Mudd College, CalTech, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Rose-Hulman Institute.

Among Black colleges, the lowest average starting salary was for graduates of North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., who had an average starting salary of $35,600.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A&T must compete with peers

Chancellor Harold Martin gathered N.C. A&T staff and faculty together Wednesday for the beginning of what he called “a very frank discussion.”

After the crowd gave the traditional call of “Aggie Pride,” Martin asked them to take a hard look at the school of which they are so proud — and how it stacks up against its peers.

“You should always know against whom we’re competing,” Martin told the capacity crowd at Harrison Auditorium. “That’s what peers should be used for: to determine how well or how poorly we’re doing.”

Martin then presented a slide show comparing A&T to 14 peer schools approved by the UNC Board of Governors in 2006.

The schools included UNC system cohorts like ECU, UNC-Charlotte and UNCG, but also schools like the University of Massachusetts and Florida A&M University. In many ways, the comparison was not flattering.

Martin pointed out that to be considered a doctoral, research intensive university an institution should be granting a minimum of 20 doctorates each year.

In 2006-2007, the last school year for which the school had compiled complete information, A&T gave just six. That’s far fewer than the 74 granted at UNCG in the same period and well below the peer group average of 39.

The number of master’s degrees given by A&T during 2006-07 was 324, well below the group average of 891. UNCG awarded 906 master’s degrees in the same period and UNC Charlotte, also a peer institution, granted 976.

Martin said he wanted to see the school increase the number of degree programs offered, which lagged well behind the peer average for number of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate programs.

The figures brought audible gasps from some in the audience, most of whom said they didn’t even know A&T had such a list of peers.

A&T compared better in terms of student performance, with its freshmen entering with an average grade point average of 3.11 on a 4.0 scale. That was higher than the group average of 3.0, but beneath all the other UNC systems schools on the list.

And though its 19 percent of students graduating in four years matched the peer average, A&T was well below the UNC system average of 26. It also scored below all the other UNC schools on the list.

Other areas in which Martin said he’d like to see A&T improve: faculty pay and, surprisingly for a historically black college, diversity.

About 88 percent of A&T’s student body is black — a much higher percentage than many of its traditionally white-dominated peer schools’ percentage of white students. Just 7 percent of A&T’s students are white, 1 percent Asian, 2 percent Hispanic and 2 percent of other ethnicity.

“We have to make commitments in being more involved in diversity at our university,” Martin said to applause. “We must be more diverse.”

Though the crowd was shocked by many of the numbers, Martin’s suggestion that the school has untapped potential for improvement was met with furious applause. Martin said he’ll work with staff and faculty in the coming semester to improve key benchmarks and move toward putting A&T in the top 25 percent of its peer universities.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Martin said. “I think we have to elect to compete. And I want to continue to have a conversation with you about how we do that.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Feds forgives $11.7M in Tx So debt

Texas Southern University President John Rudley has crossed the final item off the to-do list he created when he took the top job at the historically black university in early 2008.

The U.S. Department of Education has decided to waive $11.7 million in debt owed the federal government by Texas Southern University. The debt had lingered for 13 years, through three presidential administrations, and started out as a $40 million penalty issued by the education department in 1996, following its finding that TSU couldn't prove all federal financial aid went to eligible students.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, interceded on TSU's behalf.

“It was a steep mountain to climb,” the Jackson Lee said Monday.

The decision means TSU can instead use that money to improve its academic programs, said Provost Sunny Ohia.

“We still have a lot of work to do, with growing our enrollment and improving the quality of our academic programs,” he said.
Boosting online programs

One initiative will be to expand the number of programs offered online, Ohia said, noting that online programs are a good option for people who work full time but are expensive to create.

The original penalty was reduced to $15.7 million in 1998 during the Clinton administration. Talks continued throughout the administration of President George W. Bush, even as the school paid off almost $4 million of the debt.

Jackson Lee said a settlement appeared imminent several times but apparently lost momentum when responsibility was shifted around the department.

TSU argued that the Department of Education relied on a faulty statistical analysis to determine how many ineligible students received financial aid; Jackson Lee said school administrators provided records to support its claim that the problem was less widespread than it originally appeared.

She met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan soon after he was appointed by President Barack Obama, and he named a new team to reconsider the issue.

Jackson Lee said the reorganization begun under Rudley played a role in the decision, as did TSU's focus on underserved students, one of the Obama administration's priorities.

Department of Education officials did not return telephone calls Monday to explain their decision, or why the matter took so long to resolve.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

FVSU expecting record enrollment

When it comes to Fort Valley State University’s enrollment, President Larry E. Rivers — a man with notoriously high expectations — does have a limit in mind.

“It would take a massive construction effort to accommodate more than 5,000,” Rivers said.

University officials don’t expect to reach that number this fall, but they plan on being closer than FVSU has ever been. Between 3,800 and 4,200 students are expected to attend FVSU this fall. About 1,500 will be freshmen. So far, 1,400 freshmen have paid housing deposits, Rivers said.

Last year, the university enrolled 3,106 students, a record for the institution. Until then, the school’s highest documented enrollment was 3,024 in 1996, according to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

Terrance Smith, the university’s vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, said FVSU is ready to accommodate the massive influx with recent improvements to the campus.

The most recent phase of Wildcat Commons was completed in July. The $16 million, 126,430-square-foot student housing complex features four-bedroom suites and semi-suites with two bathrooms, along with units of two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and three bedrooms and one bathroom. The dorm is expected to house about 378 students. Smith said the university also purchased University Villas, an apartment complex with 136 bedrooms adjacent to the school.

Student housing isn’t the only concern school officials addressed to help accommodate the expanded enrollment. A 10,000-seat stadium is expected to be completed by the middle of this month. The university also plans to extend its class schedule, with more evening classes being offered. A contract was signed with a new food services provider to bring in additional dining options and the central dining area will be open from 7 a.m. until midnight.

“We’re poised for another successful year,” Smith said.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Reinvented UDC set to open this fall

The University of the District of Columbia reopens later this month amid the most far-reaching changes in its 32-year history.

When classes resume Aug. 26, DC's only public college will operate as two entities, both effectively new to the District: a two-year community college, open to all, and a four-year "flagship" university with selective admissions and tuition comparable to state universities in Virginia and Maryland. The schools will have separate faculties and student bodies.

It is a time of cautious optimism for many UDC students, who spent part of the winter protesting proposals to raise tuition and to end UDC's longtime policy of open enrollment for four-year students.

The new president, Allen L. Sessoms, saw a need to transform a campus of dilapidated buildings and sometimes directionless students. Enrollment had dwindled from 15,000 in the 1970s to 4,700. The graduation rate among full-time, first-time students was in the single digits.

"When I got here, it was pretty clear that the university was not meeting the public trust. It was not meeting expectations," Sessoms said, speaking last week in an office permeated with the smell of fresh paint.

Sessoms, a physicist trained at Yale, came to UDC in fall 2008, leaving the presidency of the historically black Delaware State University.

The school's $3,770 tuition and open admissions suited a community college, Sessoms reasoned, but not a university. Seventy percent of students arrived in need of remedial reading or math. The seasoned faculty taught rigorous courses. "When you graduated from UDC, you knew something," Sessoms said. But almost no one graduated.

Sessoms created a separate community college, preserving the traditions of low tuition, open admissions and remedial course work to serve the large numbers of students who graduate from Washington area high schools either unable to afford a state university or unprepared for college-level work.

The tuition is a flat $3,000 a year, with no nonresident surcharge, a policy that Sessoms said is "probably unique" among community colleges.

The university, in contrast, has been pruned of remedial course work. To gain admission, students have to show they are college-ready. An applicant with a 2.0 grade-point average, for example, would need a composite SAT score of at least 1400 of 2400 points to gain admission.

Sessoms initially proposed to nearly double the university's tuition in a single year. Students protested loudly, pitching tents outside the Northwest campus and turning their backs to the president en masse at one winter meeting. The school settled on a compromise that phases in the increase over two years. University students who live in the District pay $5,370 this year; students from the Maryland or Virginia suburbs pay $6,300; those from out of the region pay $12,300. Next year, the rates are scheduled to rise to $7,000, $8,000 and $14,000, respectively.

UDC will help current students who cannot pay the higher tuition, at a cost of $1 million this year in additional student aid, Sessoms said. He said the sharp increase "will put us where we need to be," with further increases only to cover inflation.

He said UDC tuition rates remain relatively low. According to figures provided by UDC, Bowie State University, for example, charges in-state students more than $6,000 and out-of-state students more than $17,000, and George Mason University charges more than $8,000 and $24,000, respectively.

The new plan "appears to have been somewhat accepted" by the student body, said Dale Lyons, the student member of the board of trustees. "The impact still hasn't hit everybody."

Sessoms said applications are up from about 2,000 at this time last year to 2,300 this year: 800 for the community college and 1,500 for the university. Schoolwide enrollment could reach 3,000 in the community college and 3,500 to 5,000 in the university.

Incoming students now apply separately to each school. Current students can choose to attend either. Those who wish to remain in the university but require remediation will have two semesters to catch up. Anyone still needing remedial help will be moved to the community college.

The higher tuition will fund a $40 million student center, the first at UDC, and building renovations to include interactive classroom technology and updated labs.

"For the first time in 30 years, there's going to be a significant investment in our physical plant," Sessoms said.

The community college will be organized around a central "hub," probably in Ward 7, in eastern Washington, with as many as six satellite locations in the city. Five satellite facilities will be open this school year. The headquarters is scheduled to move from the Van Ness campus in Northwest to the new hub next year.

Students decried the run-down state of the UDC campus even as they marched through it last winter to protest the tuition increase. Now, as they begin to see their tuition dollars at work, antipathy has softened. "I don't think there's any student who ever agrees with any tuition increase," said Teneriffe Mapp, 27, a junior. "For me personally, if there's progress that goes along with that tuition increase, then it's easier to masticate on, easier to digest."

Johnson, 25, said the work has lifted her spirits: "Those gray walls, they really took a toll on your psyche. And one day I walk in, and they're canary."

Students note other improvements: a new Web site offers online admissions and insurance forms, providing easy access to services that used to engender long lines.

Students seem to be torn over the higher standards imposed on the university. Johnson said she always felt "one of the best things about the university was the open enrollment." But she said that policy is "one of the things that keeps us from the quote-unquote prestige."