A Debt Owed:

Maryland Should Include HBCUs

in its Free Community College Plan

School Safety Panel Recommends Reversal of Student Discipline Guidance

Micah S. Evans // July 30, 2018

Maryland legislators recently passed a community college bill that would provide a $5,000 scholarship to eligible Maryland students after all grants and scholarships have been applied, often referred to as “last-dollar” programs. With Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) having just signed the bill into law, Maryland is now part of a growing list of states offering such scholarships. Maryland’s version of the initiative would be open to students applying within two years of high school graduation or attainment of a GED, who maintained at least a 2.3 grade point average, and enrolled in 12 credit hours or more at one of the state’s 16 community colleges. This general movement toward greater access in higher education is laudable and certainly a move in the right direction for Maryland. However, there is a glaring omission in this effort, Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs).

The state of Maryland was recently embroiled in desegregation litigation with its four public HBCUs: Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. In 2006, alumni from the four schools filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging a history of underfunding as well as state policies that allowed illegal signature program duplication by the state’s Predominantly White Institutions. Duplication of such signature programs had been found to promote segregation, lower attendance at the state’s HBCUs, and by extension significantly impact their revenue. In 2013, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled in favor of the plaintiffs finding that the state’s “policies and practices with respect to mission, program duplication, and funding are traceable and continue to have segregative effects.” 1 Despite the judgment, the state and its four public HBCUs have yet to come to an agreement on how to properly address the grievance. Though it certainly would not make up for the historic underfunding by the state, allowing the four public HBCUs to participate in the new community college law would be a creative way of beginning to address the problem.

In February of 2018, in an attempt to resolve the grievance of historic underfunding and program duplication, Governor Hogan offered the state’s four public HBCUs a settlement of $25 million each, paid out over 10 years. While that represents a starting point for addressing the grievance, it does not address the issue in a way that is likely to boost attendance at the four institutions for the long term. In addition, it does not address the larger issue of historic limitation of educational opportunities for Black students at the state’s four HBCUs. Lump-sum payments such as this might seem sufficient at first. However, because they are not attached to a lasting source of funding they can fail to address the long-standing needs of the grieved institutions in the form of a long-term profit generating response. What these HBCUs often require when historically underfunded by the state, is a lasting commitment to promoting higher attendance similar to the commitment the state is making with its community college law. If the state is interested in addressing attendance at these institutions – attendance being the primary source of funding for these schools – it might be prudent to provide a significant appropriation for the expansion of the community college law to include the state’s four HBCUs with a promise of future appropriations.

The average 2018 undergraduate in-state tuition at Maryland’s four public HBCUs currently stands at $7,837. The student body at all four institutions is overwhelmingly Black and over 70% of students at these schools receive some form of federal financial aid. While the state’s new community college law maximum award of $5,000 would not cover the full cost of attendance at its four public HBCUs, it would be significant in covering the gap between full in-state tuition and federal aid received for many of the students. Studies have already shown that funding that fills the gap between tuition and financial aid received by students can be a significant factor in improving retention and graduation rates, particularly for students from underserved communities.

The state of Maryland owes a higher education debt to its Black students who elect to attend the state’s HBCUs, as evidenced by the 2013 federal court decision to that effect. The state has, to this point, yet to deliver on the promise of an integrated higher education experience for its Black students. Of the 16 community colleges in Maryland, only three institutions – Baltimore City Community College, Montgomery College, and Prince George’s Community College – serve a majority Black student population. Likewise, while 31% of Black students at the state’s four public HBCUs graduate within six years, none of Maryland’s community colleges graduate Black students at or above 14% within that time frame. Though four-year institutions have traditionally outperformed community colleges in terms of graduation rates, HBCUs have shown a remarkable tendency to outperform other institutions in the graduation of Black students. Also, unlike some Predominantly White Institutions, HBCUs often achieve these accomplishments with relatively small endowments, open-access enrollments that mimic community college enrollment, and student populations from underserved communities. Expanding the Community College Plan to include Maryland’s four HBCUs would serve to bolster those four institutions and help Maryland better achieve its goal of educating traditionally underserved students. If the state of Maryland seeks legitimate ways to begin addressing its historic underfunding of its public HBCUs and better serving its Black students, it should seek to expand the community college law to include its public HBCUs.