Coppin making progress on overhaul plan, its president says

Coppin State University's president said Friday that the college has accomplished about half the goals in a plan conceived last year intended to boost its graduation rates and enrollment, strengthen its academic programs and improve the way it operates.

"We are aggressively changing the culture at Coppin" to meet the goals, President Mortimer H. Neufville said in a University System of Maryland Board of Regents meeting held Friday via conference call.

Neufville said 23 goals on the 50-point plan have been put in place, with the rest expected to be complete by June. The changes include cutting about 35 staff positions, opening up a child care center for Coppin's large nontraditional student population, and starting mandatory "customer service" training for faculty and staff.

The Coppin overhaul plan stemmed from a task force that convened last year to find solutions to some of Coppin's problems. The university's six-year graduation rate, which has been in the teens for several years, is the lowest in the state university system. The campus is also under-enrolled by about 2,000 students and formerly had an operating budget deficit.

The task force members, who released their report in May last year, said they found mismanagement, a lack of accountability and inefficient use of resources at the university — and called some of their findings "very alarming." But they also said the college had great potential to improve and benefited from a number of dedicated faculty and staff.

Neufville, who initially served as interim president and was given a two-year contract after the report was released, said the university has started a new marketing campaign to attract students, with a focus on Coppin's historically strong programs like nursing. He also said the operating budget deficit has been closed with a fund balance remaining.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who chaired the task force, said he wanted to "commend the progress" that Neufville and his administration are making.

"He's making major personnel decisions to remove people," Hrabowski said, adding that such changes usually come slowly. "He's been moving fast."

Neufville said the university's continuing challenges include boosting the enrollment to the campus' capacity of about 5,000 to 6,000 students. The university is also looking at different ways to target financial aid to attract new and transfer students. He is working with USM and the Maryland Higher Education Commission to explore changing the way Coppin's graduation rate is calculated, as he said it leaves out some non-traditional and transfer students and "does not accurately capture Coppin State University's success."

USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan said the plan has garnered positive support from some university stakeholders.

"I've heard from people who are interested in reinvesting in Coppin and providing scholarship support," Kirwan said. Administrators are "getting the word out that there is a new day at Coppin," he said.

Additionally on Friday, the USM Board of Regents approved a plan for the University of Baltimore to give the U.S. Postal Service a parcel of land in East Baltimore in exchange for the USPS vehicle maintenance facility at 60 W. Oliver St. The university plans to demolish the structure and use the site for new retail and housing development.

The regents also approved a new Master of Science in Law degree, intended for students who do not wish to pursue a juris doctorate but want a better understanding of the law. The degree would be offered at the University of Maryland, College Park campus by faculty from the Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the first such joint program after the two institutions started a plan of greater collaboration in 2011.

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