- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Mayor Adrian Fenty has decided that improving educational opportunities for residents who draw the shortest straws is Job #1 for his administration. On the front-burner are primary and secondary schooling (and for all the reasons you might imagine). What must also be pushed forward is the city’s university.

The University of the District of Columbia is America’s sole urban land-grant college, established in 1974 with the merging of Federal City College, D.C. Teaching College and Washington Technical Institute. The haste to establish UDC meant its programs and its degrees never earned the cache that most public colleges do, and for too long it has had to depend on government subsidies for financial sustenance. Today, with emerging markets like allied health care needing more and more skilled workers, it’s a perfect opportunity for a UDC-affiliated community college to bridge the gap between labor supply and demand.

Such a recommendation was made in a study released yesterday by the D.C. Appleseed Center and the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. What does the president of UDC think? “I am in support of that 1,000 percent,” Stan Jackson told us. To marry the labor market and the unskilled labor pool and to cut deeply into the D.C. adult illiteracy rate, which stands at an estimated 35 percent, it’s “absolutely important the city have a community college system,” Mr. Jackson said.

Indeed, if properly planned and executed, UDC could produce a premier community college, which is precisely what Northern Virginia Community College is. Having grown exponentially in recent years, NOVA not only plugs adults directly into the workforce, but wins grants from leading American institutions to specifically train business and medical professionals. It’s a niche that’s becoming extremely popular as the costs of four years of college at public and private colleges continue to rise.

And sometimes, adults already in the workforce are motivated by other factors, as working mom Keisha Whitaker-Duncan explained to reporter Jim McElhatton in yesterday’s article “Community Colleges seen as essential.” Mrs. Whitaker-Duncan , who works at and attends Southeastern University, wants to get her associate’s degree and then her bachelor’s in business. “The juggle is really, really hard,” Mrs. Whitaker-Duncan said. “But at some point, you just kind of want to show your children that there’s a different way in life.”

Job #1 includes UDC, but let’s not be too hasty. Deliberations should be careful. What are the target markets? What grants are available? Where will the campus be? What partnerships are needed? Let’s get this right because, when all is said and done, haste makes waste.

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