The report, which the regents adopted on Wednesday, is not wholly bleak. It recognizes Coppin's traditional commitment to serving the local community and the role it plays in providing opportunities for thousands of students, predominantly minorities and often from families without a strong tradition of higher education. It recognizes the importance of that mission but concludes that major changes are needed if Coppin is to achieve it.
The evidence that something is seriously wrong with the way Coppin has been run in recent years is overwhelming. During a decade when enrollment dropped by 3 percent, Coppin added 20 new degree programs and boosted faculty positions by 49 percent and administrative positions by 92 percent. Coppin's professors have a significantly larger course load than other USM universities but produce by far the lowest average credit hours — essentially, faculty are teaching courses that few students want to take. One might imagine that this increase in faculty and administrators has produced a more nurturing, supportive environment, but the opposite is true; students expressed dissatisfaction with professors for not showing up to class or office hours, and they complained that the administration was indifferent.
This report was not the work of a group of Coppin-haters. The committee was chaired by
Nonetheless, their recommendations may be hard for many in the Coppin community to accept. They include "right-sizing" the administration — that is to say, eliminating positions — and dropping low-priority academic programs. And they call for a shift in what has essentially been an open-door admissions policy to one in which the school is much more selective in its admissions of first-time, full-time freshmen.
There's good reason for that. The 15 percent graduation rate refers to that kind of student — basically, those who go to Coppin straight out of high school. Sixty-six percent of those students require remedial courses when they get to Coppin, yet only 40 percent of them will have successfully completed them by the end of their first year. Many of these students are simply not equipped to succeed at a four-year university — at least not at that point in their lives.
And that's a key distinction. The university does much better with students who transfer to Coppin from community colleges or who come back to finish a degree started there or elsewhere. Transfer students make up less than half of the student body, but they account for two-thirds of the bachelor's degrees Coppin awards. Those who transfer from community colleges have a 40 percent graduation rate. The added maturity and drive of those students makes a real difference. The report calls on the school to increase its enrollment of transfer students but to develop stronger relationships with community colleges and divert to them first-time students who do not have a realistic chance for success at Coppin. That may be hard for some applicants and their parents to hear, but it makes sense.
Making all of this happen is going to require strong management, but the report comes at a time when the school does not have a permanent president. Instead, veteran education administrator Mortimer H. Neufville is serving on an interim basis, and the university system has not yet even begun a search for a permanent leader, nor does it intend to for the foreseeable future. That is likely the wisest course. Mr. Neufville, who served in a similar capacity at the