Two-thirds of Coppin's incoming freshmen require remedial work, according to the most recent report. Their average SAT score is 882, compared with 990 throughout the state, and they average a high school GPA of 2.4 (out of 4) — figures that are more in line with a start at community college than a four-year institution.
Many of Coppin's current students work full-time while attending school and more than half are parents — factors that lead many to drop out.
The report recommends Coppin partner with community colleges and be more selective in its admissions process. But it says little about how officials can attract better students.
The school was about 2,000 students shy of its recommended capacity last fall, with an enrollment of 3,612. That under-enrollment has been blamed for pushing up Coppin's per-student spending figure.
The report pointed to management problems as well. The school became unnecessarily top-heavy, the committee found, with the number of faculty increasing by 49 percent as enrollment went down, and the number of administrators nearly doubling over the past decade.
"What we found was significant misalignment between where faculty and administrative resources were placed and where the students" needed them to be, Kelley said.
Coppin does have students who graduate within four years, and some who go on to earn graduate degrees at prestigious institutions, including Johns Hopkins, Duke and Harvard universities.
Some are student-athletes and some are transfer students who are often older than first-time freshmen. Those two groups have higher graduation rates, at 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared with first-time, full-time freshmen in 2012.
Wilkie was a biology student at Coppin before the completion of the school's new $80 million science and technology building, which is expected to be up and running by 2015. She said she missed out on hands-on course work because labs and resources weren't available.
"We just didn't have the necessary facilities," Wilkie said, adding that some professors paid for materials out of their own pockets "to allow us to get the experience needed."
When she entered grad school in Ohio, she had to double her time studying, trying to catch up on what she missed as an undergraduate. "I was not well prepared at all," she said.
Still, she would recommend Coppin.
"Regardless of the issues, because we do have issues to work through, I still believe the school has a lot of promise," she said. "If you're a serious student, I think you can go through Coppin and be very successful."
Several hundred successful students strode across the stage at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall recently at Coppin's commencement ceremony, including many who were their family's first college graduates, according to a show of hands. Proud families snapped photos on digital cameras and iPads in the audience, letting out whoops and hollers when their relatives' names were called.
But amid the pomp, some speakers spoke of the school's difficult transition.
"You are now in a position to be critical of Coppin. … We need you to kick our butts and tell us what sucks," said Nicholas Eugene, an associate professor in the math and computer science department and president of the faculty senate. He urged the new graduates to evaluate their experiences and play a role in Coppin's "unfolding story."
Coppin's past two presidents, hired in 2003 and 2008, came in with "change agendas," but were unable to make much difference after "valiant" efforts, Kirwan said. The last president, Reginald S. Avery, received a no-confidence vote from faculty, who pointed out that he failed to disburse $800,000 in student aid. He stepped down in January.
Avery declined to comment, and his predecessor, Stanley Battle, could not be reached.
Mortimer H. Neufville was appointed interim president at Coppin, a post he previously held at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, another historically black institution.
He and Kirwan are developing an implementation plan for the committee recommendations and are expected to present it to the Board of Regents this month.