Coppin's challenges

December 04, 2006

The recent announcement that Stanley F. Battle is leaving Coppin State University next year to become chancellor of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University presents the West Baltimore school with a number of challenges. During his tenure, Mr. Battle helped raise Coppin's profile, but improving its academic success is still a work in progress.

A century-old historically black institution, Coppin has been noted for its nursing, criminal justice, social work and teaching programs, supplying many of those professions throughout the region with its graduates. And after years of capital underfunding by the state, the campus is getting a new large academic and office building and a new physical education building, thanks in part to Mr. Battle and to his predecessor, Calvin W. Burnett, currently Maryland's secretary of higher education, who served as Coppin's president for more than 30 years.

Although Mr. Battle has been at the helm only since 2003, he continued to embrace Coppin's efforts to improve conditions for its West Baltimore neighbors, particularly through its partnership with the city's public school system. In 2004, Mr. Battle and Coppin launched the "urban educational corridor" that has tried to extend the turnaround success of Rosemont Elementary School to William H. Lemmel Middle School and Frederick Douglass High School. Last year, Mr. Battle also presided at the opening of Coppin Academy, a high school with rigorous standards that draws on the expertise of Coppin professors and has become one of the most sought-after high schools in the city.

Mr. Battle pushed the state to change the name Coppin State College to Coppin State University, a move that generated some additional pride among students and faculty, but that might amount to a distinction without a difference. Despite some impressive honors programs, Coppin is still struggling to distinguish itself academically. Student scores on the SAT have not increased during Mr. Battle's tenure and are largely between 780 and 910, the second lowest in the state university system. More worrisome is the fact that only 25 percent of Coppin's students graduate within six years, the lowest rate in the system.

Improving those numbers will depend, in large part, on improving the academic skills of students admitted to Coppin, many of whom come from challenging backgrounds. Mr. Battle stressed the importance of mentoring and nurturing young people to success, which is why Coppin's efforts to work with students from kindergarten on up may be its most critical educational mission and a continuing challenge for its next president.

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