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Panel recommends changes at Coppin State

It suggests enrolling higher-caliber freshmen, focusing more on older transfer students

By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

8:48 PM EDT, May 14, 2013

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Coppin State University should enroll higher-caliber freshmen, focus more on transfer and returning students, and reorganize its academics and administration, a committee plans to report Wednesday to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.

The recommendations, from a panel convened in December to study Coppin State, are meant to turn around the stressed institution, one of Maryland's four historically black colleges and universities. The school has one of the lowest six-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time students in the country at 15 percent as of fiscal year 2012 and is underenrolled by more than 2,000 students, the committee said.

"There's no question that Coppin has been an underperforming institution," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

He pointed to the graduation rate, audit findings that showed that Coppin had an operating deficit of $1.4 million in fiscal year 2012, and a revolving door of presidents that saw the last one leave in January, a year after receiving a faculty vote of no confidence.

The committee blames mismanagement and indifferent faculty for the school's poor performance and declining enrollment. It notes that Coppin added programs and faculty despite its long-standing problems.

Kirwan called it "a very frank report."

"It points out where there are strengths at Coppin, but it doesn't hide any of the weaknesses and the issues that need to be addressed," he said. "I don't know if I've ever been more optimistic about what can happen at Coppin" if the recommendations are implemented, he added.

Also among the committee's recommendations:

•Improving access to financial aid.

•Prioritizing academic programs based on demand and career opportunities, and offering flexible classes to accommodate student schedules.

•Collaborating across departments and training employees in the skills and attitudes necessary for "dramatic improvements in student services and operations."

If the board accepts the recommendations, a public comment period will run through early June. Then Kirwan will work with Coppin's interim president, Mortimer H. Neufville, to create an implementation plan.

Coppin officials and faculty and student representatives declined to comment until the report is presented.

The 14-member committee appointed to look into Coppin was chaired by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a former vice president of academic affairs and dean at Coppin.

"I spent 10 years at Coppin when I was a young man ... so I believe in the mission," Hrabowski said. He said many of the graduates he knows would not have moved into the ranks of professionals "if it had not been for Coppin."

The school's historic focus has been on providing a higher education to black city residents, and most of the 3,300 undergraduates enrolled are from Baltimore. Two-thirds of first-time, full-time freshmen are required to take remedial courses, the committee reported.

"It is very clear that the traditional graduation rate shows that the majority of students who begin as first-time, full-time freshmen don't graduate," Hrabowski said. "And two questions you have to ask are: 'Are there students being admitted who are not prepared?' and 'Should there be a stronger relationship with the community college system?'"

The committee's review found that older transfer students graduate at a higher rate: 40 percent in fiscal year 2012.

Hrabowski said Coppin should figure out how to "focus more attention on all of those returning students who are ready to learn."

"The most important theme in all of this is: It's not business as usual. We're talking about substantive changes on the administration and academic sides," Hrabowski said.

He said the university system is committed to helping Coppin "become effective in educating large numbers of people," particularly those from the city.

"Coppin is critical to the future of Baltimore," Hrabowski said.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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