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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.”

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