I heartily recommend Daniel DeVise’s profile of Trinity Washington University president Pat McGuire in this weekend’s Washington Post magazine. McGuire and her colleagues embody much of what is good and right about higher education. By transforming a failing women’s college into thriving university dedicated to serving minority and first-generation students, she is working in the best traditions of Catholic education. DeVise’s article is comprehensive so just a few things to add: Trinity’s success in serving minority students stands in marked contrast to other DC-area institutions. Trinity is drawing from the same pool of students coming out of DC’s notorious public school system. It is a low-resource institution–McGuire, after 20 years in the presidency, makes $202,000 a year. Many colleges cite lack of money and poor student preparation as an excuse for appalling failure rates. Trinity shows that a well-run, student-focused institution can make a huge difference in the lives of students. This doesn’t mean we should slack off on efforts to improve high school and provide resource equity to colleges that serve first-generation undergraduates. But many colleges can do much better than they are.
It’s also worth noting that Trinity is consistently ranked as a “4th Tier” Master’s-granting university in the north region by U.S. News & World Report. This is the worst possible ranking and classification a college can receive. Trinity receives this ranking not despite the fact that it serves under-prepared students on a modest budget, but because it serves under-prepared students on a modest budget. If Trinity began jacking up tuition and telling African-American women from the impoverished Anacostia region of Washington, DC to find somewhere else to enroll in college, it would rise in the rankings. In this way, the incentives built into the U.S. News system run 180 degrees from the values animating colleges that do more than pay lip service to their public obligations.
Meanwhile, given the fact that Trinity has deliberately enrolled an overwhelmingly non-white student population, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before the “UCLA Civil Rights Project” denounces Trinity as an “apartheid school” and McGuire as a latter-day promoter of Plessey vs. Ferguson’s separatist ideals.