Future of UDC-CC at Center of Special Council Hearing

Dorothy Rowley | 10/16/2012, 8:32 p.m.

Twenty-three-year-old Cornell Parks always dreamed of attending college. He longed to study information technology. The Southeast resident couldn't afford to enroll in a four-year school, so the University of the District of Columbia's Community College [UDC-CC] proved a logical choice.

But just as Parks settled into his first year of studies, he learned that his school's flagship institution, the University of the District of Columbia [UDC] plans to relocate the P.R. Harris Educational Center he attends in Southeast and the community college's two other locations - the former Bertie Backus Elementary School and the 801 North Capitol St. building in Northeast - to the UDC campus, miles across the city, in Northwest.

"I had my sights set on completing my studies at P.R. Harris, which is close to my home on 29th Street," said a disheartened Parks, who counted among a packed chamber of faculty and staff, students and community advocates who made their way Thursday, Oct.11 to the John A. Wilson Building in downtown D.C. to protest UDC's intent to right-size its faculty and staff.

"I depend on public transportation, and for them to close down the building I attend will be devastating . . . I don't have the money to travel to Northwest every day for my classes," Parks said.

The D.C. Council Committee on Jobs and Workforce Development, chaired by Ward 5 representative Kenyan McDuffie, 36, hosted the full-house Public Oversight Hearing.

However, during the lengthy hearing, a succession of speakers opposed to relocating the community college to the flagship campus on Connecticut Avenue, acknowledged that UDC has been in a critical financial state for numerous years, and that tightening its grip on UDC-CC will help offset some cash flow woes.

On the other hand, many among the crowd of more than 300 people - including the overflow that spilled into another room and into the hallway - also believe the plan to "right-size" UDC will destabilize enrollment and undermine the community college's importance. Still, while others agreed that right-sizing is a tough decision that would primarily impact personnel nearing the age of retirement, they said it's "the smart thing to do" in order to operate UDC more effectively and efficiently.

"UDC should be able to right-size itself without harming the community college," said McDuffie, adding that it remains necessary for the two separate institutions to exist.

At-large Council member Michael Brown, 47, who sat at the table three years ago when plans for the launch of UDC-CC were being discussed, remains a champion of the school, and encouraged students at the hearing to "self-advocate."

He also noted that UDC-CC has enhanced the standing of UDC, and that by all indications, the community college appeared "very sustainable" when it first opened in 2009.

Brown said however, that as a result of an investigation by his office, they "discovered several troubling realities" surrounding UDC. Specifically, that UDC's cost per student are the highest among its peer colleges.

Brown expressed concern with the manner in which UDC arrived at its decisions that will impact at least 25 faculty and staff members and hundreds of its community college students. At this time, UDC boasts an enrollment of just over 6,000 students - half attend UDC-CC.