On August 12th, Forest Hill Connection published the op-ed, “UDC is focused on the wrong students.” UDC President Ronald Mason, Jr. wrote this response:
UDC is the state higher education system for the District of Columbia. It serves the same role for the District as the Maryland system does for Maryland. We are responsible for all of the District’s public higher education needs. The Fall 2019 enrollment in our academic programs, which lead to Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees, was 4,456. Some 2,154 of that number were full-time students, while 2,302 were part-time. Their average age was 28. Fifty-nine percent were African American, 14 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were international, and 6 percent were white. Fifty-five percent of our First-Time-in-College students came to us from District high schools.
We also provided workforce training to 2,168 students free of charge. Ninety-nine percent of those students were DC residents, and over 75 percent were from DC high schools. Their average age was 36. Counting both workforce training and degree-seeking students, UDC enrolled a total of over 6,500 students. Thousands more accessed our Land-Grant certificate programs, in areas such as urban gardening and food handling.
We differ from other state systems in significant ways that impact our enrollment. Foremost among them relates to the demographic changes mentioned in the article, which in 2000 led the federal government to institute a program that pays for DC high school graduates to attend any public university in the nation, every Historically Black College and University in the nation, and every university in the District. It is called the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG). The only institution in any of those three categories where the program prohibits students from utilizing the grant funds is UDC. TAG has played a large role in the reduction in UDC enrollment.
The tape of the Compliance Hearing mentioned in the article shows that Chairman Mendelson and I discussed enrollment for over 10 minutes. We discussed our initiatives to recruit, retain, and graduate students. Enrollment has remained relatively stable since my arrival in 2015 (4,606 to 4,456), but there is more to the story. The number of first time in college full-time students enrolling at UDC has doubled, as has the number of high performers (3.0 GPA and above) from DC public and public charter schools. Our retention rate also has improved by 10 percent in the same period.
We see these results despite the facilities challenges mentioned in the article. It is true that our main campus bears 50 years of deterioration. In addition, our operating budget is relatively small for an institution our size. Also, our associate degree nursing program of over 200 students was closed in 2015. It reopened this year.
Our Equity Imperative strategic plan (udc.edu), shows that we know our students well. We focus on them all. They are the citizens of the District who seek an affordable education from a fully accredited university (reaffirmed in 2015 with 11 commendations). Some come directly from high school, some deplete TAG money and transfer to UDC to finish their education. Some enter workforce training and are inspired to proceed to a bachelor’s degree.
So while the article implied we should only focus on workforce students, that would do a great disservice, for example, to the students in our nationally #1-ranked Business School (affordableschools.net), or our #1-ranked mechanical engineering program, or our top-10-
ranked Clinical Law programs (US News and World Report).
Our vision is that students who come through our doors will reach their highest levels of human potential. Any lesser vision would not befit the public institution of higher learning in and for the nation’s capital.
Ronald Mason, Jr., President
University of the District of Columbia