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Coppin's problem is that Maryland has failed to fund the school adequately

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The Sun suggests that the buck stops at Coppin State University President Reginald Avery's door regarding efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates and point the school in a new direction ("Which way for Coppin?" July 25). But whatever one's view of President Avery's leadership, to limit the discussion of Coppin's current plight to the four years of his tenure misses the boat.

Mr. Avery's four-year record, faculty, staff and student sentiments and his testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence, which represents the state's historically black colleges and universities in their lawsuit against Maryland's Higher Education Commission, provide an ample basis for an objective assessment of Coppin's problems. Yet The Sun buys the defendants' logic in that case hook, line and sinker.

What are the defendants' arguments? That there has been no underfunding of Maryland's black colleges and universities, and that Coppin is not currently under-resourced. That the state of Maryland has satisfactorily addressed all the issues of alleged disparities in funding identified by the federal Office of Civil Rights, and that the state, through the University System of Maryland and the Maryland Higher Education Commission, no longer practices de jure segregation in regard to its four historically black colleges and universities.

The Sun says Coppin's issue is that "the state formula for allocating higher education funds is based on student attendance, so Coppin clearly needs to reach out to a more diverse applicant pool to meet its enrollment targets." Coppin needs to find its niche. The Sun's logic gives little or no credence to how underfunding affects the continued retention and graduation problem. Similar to defendants, the weight is put on the HBCUs, in this Coppin.

This does not deflate arguments surrounding Mr. Avery's leadership and management, nor his responsibility. Everyone, including Mr. Avery, must understand that they are part of the problem or part of the solution based on their deeds and actions.

Look at it from plaintiffs' eyes and their supporters, including the faculty that voted no confidence and the AFSCME staff members who protested lay-offs. They say that Mr. Avery's lawsuit testimony supports the defendants' arguments, even though he has lived every day since his arrival managing issues related to the school's chronic underfunding.

For example, Coppin's ratio of full-time to part-time faculty is 1:1. This ratio is far above the national average for four-year colleges, and it is above that of Maryland's traditionally white institutions.

This disproportion hinders advising, both academic and personal, as well as classroom quality. It is full-time faculty's responsibility to advise and prepare for the classroom, even with staff lay-offs there will still be a 20 percent cut in part-time faculty expenditures this fiscal year.

The summer SASA program provides incoming freshmen with a chance to take classes that prepare them for college life. The program might not continue. Why? There is a shortage of funds.

Literature suggests that campus maintenance, atmosphere and services all contribute to retention and graduation rates. Yet lay-offs have been made in these areas.

A large obstacle to improving student retention and graduation rates is inadequate financial aid. Most Coppin students need to work, even though they receive some financial aid, and many do not graduate in their six-year cohort because they have to work.

More financial aid in the way of grants and scholarships is needed. Students who drop out or who do not graduate in their cohort may later return to school and graduate. But these students are not accounted for in retention and graduation rates.

There are many more than two quality programs at Coppin, as The Sun suggests. But new buildings without adequate operating funds (full-time faculty, equipment, etc.) do not add up to quality programs.

Ken Morgan, Baltimore

The writer is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Political and Social Sciences at Coppin State University.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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