by Ken Eisinger

Two years after General College found itself on the chopping block, the school’s officials seem primed to declare it the leading developmental educator in the country.
General College Dean David Taylor delivered a glowing report card of the school to the Board of Regents on Thursday. In 1997, a team of outside appraisers gave the school a clean bill of health and said the nondegree-granting college is poised to become a national model.
“We have everything in place, it’s just that we haven’t hung our shingle up and declared” the school’s elite nature, Taylor said.
Thoughtful nods and smiles prevailed in the regent’s room Thursday, the same site where heated discussions over the college’s grim future took place two years earlier. University President Mark Yudof and board members said they felt heartened by the continuing success of the college they voted to keep in 1996.
Regent Tom Reagan said he was vindicated by the college’s success. He helped swing votes to defeat a plan by former University President Nils Hasselmo, who labeled the college costly and ineffective.
“You put up one hell of a fight,” Reagan said. “I’ve never seen anyone fight so hard as Dean Taylor did.”
But the major focus was not on the past but on the future.
The review panel was made up of three developmental education experts and conducted its study at the request of the regents. It gave General College officials a boost of encouragement when it concluded that the school was a model for addressing student demographics and demand at a major research university.
General College “provides the University with an effective approach to some of the major issues confronting higher education,” the report said.
It did recommend some changes, however, some of which Taylor said are already in progress. They include:
ù An online, five-course sequence administered to teachers by General College and the College of Education for certification in developmental education;
ù Increased communication with metropolitan community colleges to work toward mutual standards of instruction and training;
ù Enhanced use of digital technology and distance learning to broaden the college’s reach;
ù Engagement with other academic units in the University in collaborative research and mutual assistance.
“My goal is to expand the role of the college,” Yudof said. “My view is we are first and foremost responsible for access to an undergraduate education.”
Access that Leslie DuCloux said allowed him to attend college.
DuCloux, a St. Paul native, dreamed of attending the University as a youth. He said lack of high school preparation and test taking anxiety caused him to score poorly on the ACT.
“I wouldn’t have made into a lot of schools,” DuCloux said. “I came here and did well and it gave me confidence.”
DuCloux recently transferred to the College of Liberal Arts with a 3.4 grade point average.
DuCloux is indicative of the success of the college’s first-year students, said Patty Neiman, an associate counselor/advocate.
Smaller changes in the college since the near-closure of 1996 include an increased emphasis on preparing students for transfer and evaluating its developmental education performance. General College staff say these changes are not a result of the near-close but were already in the works.
“Our student population is the reason we have what we have, not the threat of closing,” Neiman said.
Prior to 1996, it used to take four to five years for 25 percent of a freshman group to transfer to a degree-granting college. Now, more than 50 percent transfer after three years.
Part of the progress had to do with the do-or-die attitude college administrators took.
Robert Del Mas, a program director in General College’s research office, said he’s noticed a greater sense of comradery in Appleby Hall.
“It closed ranks, people came more together,” he said.
With the validation of the reviewing team and a supportive central administration, General College officials like Terry Collins see a bright future.
The near-closure “brought new energy to GC and an awareness of our need to become members not satellites of the University,” said Collins, director of General College Academic Affairs. “It was a welcome development out of a bad situation. It was water under the bridge; we’re coming out of the bunker.”