The Comeback College (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Comeback College

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:32:53
We turn now to an educational institution that could very well be granted honorary underdog status. The University of the District of Columbia is Washington's only public university. But in recent years, there's been talk about poor infrastructure over there, low morale, even some NCAA investigations into the athletic department. Not to mention a bunch of block-like buildings that can seem, well, you know, a little uninviting compared with other campus' in the area.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:33:22
But since 2008, U.D.C.'s new President Allen Sessoms has been trying to change that. Not only did he double tuition, he also changed the schools open enrollment policy and created a community college. WAMU's education reporter Kavitha Cardoza sat down with Sessoms to talk about U.D.C.'s turn around.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

13:33:42
A recent Brookings report found that there were more available jobs in D.C. than the city had residents and almost a third of those jobs require just two years of education after high school. How has the community college you helped create, helped bridge that gap?

MR. ALLEN SESSOMS

13:33:58
Well, the only way I can tell how it's been successful since it's only a year and a half old, is the volume of students who've enrolled in the community college. And the number has been dramatically increased. We started with about 1,700. Second year, it increased 50 percent to 2,700 students almost. A lot of the workforce development programs that existed in the District of Columbia over the past 30 years did not seem to be designed for the benefit of the students that were being trained.

MR. ALLEN SESSOMS

13:34:22
But we discovered many of the adults that have literacy issues, they have numerous issues, they haven't really figured out how to work in teams so they need to get the basic skills in place before they can actually be trained for some of these jobs. We have -- the community college 30 majors. For example, nurses assistants, aviation mechanics, automobile mechanics is another. If you take a look at the demand for folks in two-year programs, a lot of it in this federal town is with office management.

MR. ALLEN SESSOMS

13:34:48
So there's business management, there's business law, for example. And in liberal studies, there's a student who just doesn't quite know what she or he wants to do. But once you get a liberal education, they can get a degree in liberal studies and transfer all those credits over to the university.

CARDOZA

13:35:02
You've said you need $8 million to help fund the community college byMarch 1st otherwise they'll be what you call disruptions to the program, what does that mean?

SESSOMS

13:35:11
If you take a look at what the Brooking study suggests, they said you need $60 million to run a community college, $60 million a year. We started the community college at no additional costs by using some reserve funds we had. And we started and it costs about $8 - $10 million a year. We told them that we were able to do this for two years, but after that, they needed to step up. In addition, we got a 50 percent increase enrollment, which is a really nice thing to have happen, but every student at a community college costs you money.

SESSOMS

13:35:38
We charge $3,000. It costs about $11,000 to educate a full-time student. And we got two new facilities and those cost money to maintain. Well, all of a sudden, that rubber meets the road. We're going to have to curtail programs simply because the money's not there and we can't overspend our budget. So we're going to have to start winding things out. We have to start doing that in a week. The impression I'm getting is that people understand that, they appreciate it and they will find the money.

SESSOMS

13:36:00
But we need the money to pay the adjuncts, we need the money to pay other faculty, we need money to maintain facilities. It's just a fact of life.

CARDOZA

13:36:08
Over the years, U.D.C. has had a pretty poor reputation. How do you go about changing public perception?

SESSOMS

13:36:15
I think the attitude has to be that we are reinventing the place. We are transforming it. We have to have new academic programs, we have to have new social programs. We're building a student center, residence also on campus, major transformation. I have a significant push on athletics. I just discovered, which is something strange in American society, you are who you play, at least in the minds of a lot of people. So if we play G.W. and Virginia and Virginia Tech and Maryland, after a while, people associate you with those institutions you play.

SESSOMS

13:36:42
We want to be able to make the place into an oasis in some real sense. We're going to have big cisterns that collect the rain water and instead of dumping into a drain, recycle it. So we can recycle, like, watering plants, we can also transform some of the waters that we gather into waterfalls that allow us to transform the nature of the beast and make it a much more, kind of, inviting place to sit.

CARDOZA

13:37:06
You had said two years ago when you came, that it was going to take a decade for you to transform U.D.C. Are you on track?

SESSOMS

13:37:14
I think what we've done is qualitative. We changed the reputation of the place. People are now looking at the university as a serious enterprise. We have faculty who are, I think it's fair to say, more engaged because they see a fairly clear mission. Previous to 2008, it just wasn't clear what they were supposed to do. On the one side, you had a research university, on the other side, you had open admissions. And I think we see a sort of dramatic increase in research productivity. At the university, we see a much greater focus on student success and then the ideas to make sure that we admit students with a covenant between the university of the community college and those students.

SESSOMS

13:37:49
That if they work hard, they will succeed, period. And we'll do everything we can to make sure that happens. That wasn't the case in the past.
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