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N.C. To Close 5 Administrator-Training Programs

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The administrator-training programs at several North Carolina universities are being put out of business by a bold state plan to tighten preparation standards and keep the supply of graduates in line with schools' staffing needs.

Only seven of the 12 state universities that turn out school leaders will continue to do so after this fall. But even those schools will replace their programs with a new master's degree in school administration.

The remaining five universities will phase out their programs.

All but one of the 12 campuses competed for the seven slots to offer the new programs. Their bids were judged by a panel of national experts in the field.

The final decision this month by the governing board of the state university system was at the heart of an effort by legislative, business, and education leaders to overhaul administrator preparation and better reflect job-market demands.

Observers said the plan breaks new ground in the movement to improve the quality of administrator-preparation programs, which are often accused of being "cash cows" for universities.

"No one has ever taken the bull by the horns like this," said Joseph Murphy, the chairman of the educational-leadership department at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who served as a consultant to North Carolina. "On top of that, the new programs that were created are first rate."

Concern About Glut

The state's recent announcement is part of a broad and well-financed plan approved by the legislature last year. It sets aside funds for a professional-development academy for school leaders, a scholarhip program for full-time study, and an independent standards board.

Mary E. Wakeford, the assistant vice president for academic affairs in the state universities' central administration, said the plan aims to regulate the number of administrators in the pipeline. A university-system study had shown that there was a glut in the job market.

"We felt we simply had too many programs," Ms. Wakeford said. "We thought there were too many students graduated--or more than were needed."

Legislative and other state leaders moved to single out those universities with "a high institutional commitment to preparing school leaders," she added.

The outside panel recommended that the state approve only proposals that were seen as creative. The state, however, cited geographic, racial, or cultural factors in excluding a couple of schools.

The panel ranked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the top program.

North Carolina State University in nearby Raleigh was cut despite its high marks. Officials said it was too close to the Chapel Hill campus. Both are in a heavily populated area of the state known as the Research Triangle. Durham, home of the private Duke University, is the third city making up the triangle.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro--ranked ninth by the panel--was selected in place of N.C. State. Appalachian State University in Boone was also knocked out because of its location.

In a Bad Spot?

Although several campus officials applauded the state's effort to improve administrator preparation, the recent announcement still packed a punch.

"The fact that we did not get into the pool greatly disturbs me," Joan J. Michael, the dean of the college of education and psychology at N.C. State, said. She pointed out that the campus is in one of the nation's fastest-growing areas--an indication that there may be a bigger demand for school leaders in the region.

Indeed, the university system's central office recently produced another study projecting population growth that may require the state to prepare more administrators.

"I think questions will continue to be asked" about the state's decision, said Sally Atkins, the acting dean of Appalachian State's college of education.

Other states, however, might take a similar approach to administrator preparation, either to limit the stream of graduates or contain costs, observers said.

The other institutions approved by the governing board are: East Carolina University, Fayetteville State University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Western Carolina University. North Carolina Central University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University were outranked. Pembroke State University chose to dissolve its program.

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