Rebuilding BCCC

December 16, 2004

ANOTHER INDEPENDENT report - this time from the Maryland Higher Education Commission - paints a devastating portrait of disarray and questionable educational services at Baltimore City Community College. It validates earlier, similarly negative analyses of Maryland's only state-run community college. And it provides even more reason to call for a thorough overhaul of an institution that should play a key role in improving Baltimore's work force.

In an interview this week, the college's interim president and its new board chair insisted that a full-scale rebuilding effort has been under way at BCCC for months - since August, when the MHEC team studied the college for its recently released report. That commitment is very good news, and we wish the college nothing but success. But given the severity of the problems cited in the MHEC and other reports, it will not be an easy task.

Just a few of problems noted:

BCCC's board, having meddled in certain administrative matters, needs training on its proper role - particularly given that it enjoys wider than typical legal latitude.

Under its last president, for 19 months until May, college-wide communications and consultative bodies suffered "a near fatal collapse," MHEC found. Faculty and staff exhibited "pervasive paranoia."

BCCC's developmental courses for inadequately prepared students - enrolling almost all its degree-seeking entrants - need evaluation and potential revamping.

An earlier report, by the Abell Foundation, even more directly questioned whether BCCC students are acquiring adequate skills in its developmental courses, noting the high drop-out rate in the school's nursing programs. The college's graduation and transfer rate, falling for about a decade until last spring, is the lowest among the state's community colleges.

The college's interim president, Richard M. Turner III, and its board chairwoman, Ellestine J. Grant, say the problems are being addressed: Board members, three of whom are new, will undergo training; they are hiring a consultant to conduct a national search for a permanent president; college-wide communications and committee structures are being restored; and BCCC is starting to examine whether its developmental courses are effective.

That last challenge may be the most vexing. BCCC serves a very diverse student body in very diverse ways, but at its core, it receives graduates of the city school system who are often poorly educated - students with high school diplomas but who are, say, reading at elementary-school levels. Some reports suggest that the preparation level of such students is declining these days, making BCCC's job even that much tougher.

Figuring out how to turn more of these remedial students into skilled degree candidates in career programs would be an impressive achievement, one that would really make a difference for this city. BCCC must fix its operational problems so it can focus fully on this difficult but critical job.

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