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Board to vote on Coppin overhaul strategy

Plan includes long- and short-term strategies to help struggling institution

By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

5:58 PM EDT, June 20, 2013

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An action plan to revitalize Coppin State University, a historically black institution with the lowest graduation rate in Maryland, is before the state university system's Board of Regents, which is expected to vote on the proposal Friday.

The 18-page plan outlines long- and short-term strategies to meet three goals identified last month by a board-appointed review committee: increase student retention and graduation rates at the city university, strengthen academics and faculty, and improve administrative and financial operations.

Coppin, which had 3,600 students last fall, has the worst graduation rate in the state for first-time, full-time freshmen at 15 percent.

It's under-enrolled by 2,000 students, offers more courses than there's a demand for and has been mismanaged in terms of both finances and personnel, according to the board committee. Members said the college should be more selective in admissions, overhaul academics and reorganize the administration.

Interim President Mortimer H. Neufville, who was assigned to the post after the previous president stepped down in January, has begun the academic and financial reorganization within the university. The number of internal schools was reduced to four from six, and the budget has been restructured to ensure Coppin ends the fiscal year without overspending.

Neufville worked with University System Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan and some within the Coppin community to develop the implementation plan.

Among its "immediate" actions, due by Aug. 31, are developing an enrollment management plan and a marketing plan, and enhancing alumni programs and donations.

Short-term activities, running through the end of the year, include bringing the faculty's course load into line with other universities' and training academic advisers.

Mid-term actions, to be in place a year from now, include customer service training for staff with a focus on retaining students, and the adoption of a shared governance plan "with an emphasis on increasing communications within the various constituencies."

And long-term efforts, spanning the next five years, will include enhancing student spaces, determining the need for additional housing and expanding online program offerings.

The implementation strategy "appropriately addresses" the board recommendations, Kirwan said. "It has very clear and specific actions that are going to be taking place. There's a timetable… so [media] and the General Assembly and the general public are going to know 'did these things get done?' So, I think it's a very solid plan."

"If we are successful, and I'm confident we will be … in carrying out these initiatives, I think it's going to make a huge difference in the university."

Through a Coppin spokeswoman, Neufville declined to comment before the board vote.

John L. Hudgins, an associate professor at Coppin and president of the university's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said it was good that some movement is about to take place but added that he fears faculty and those who know the school best will be cut from the process.

"A balanced, vigilant, and competent, resourced implementation group can do much to get CSU moving in the right direction," Hudgins said in an email. "My worry is that this becomes dominated by USM administrators and CSU administrators who have not demonstrated they understand the problems let alone some of the solutions."

He pointed to limited involvement of faculty in developing the implementation plan. Kirwan said there is still time for faculty input and urged anyone with concerns to step forward.

"If there are individuals who think initiatives ought to be modified or altered or others put in place, there's ample chance for them to be heard," the chancellor said.

Hudgins and other critics of the report on Coppin have said there was nothing new to it and blamed the board and chancellor for allowing the school to sink so low.

Kirwan and board members have defended their oversight of the university's presidents, pointing out that Maryland allows individual universities a great degree of autonomy and that the board stepped in to order the committee review after the last president resigned.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

twitter.com/triciabishop