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Maryland HBCUs Catching Up But Still Struggling

After Years of Neglect, Maryland HBCUs Get Money But Need More

Over the last several months, Bowie State University President Mickey Burnim has been playing tour guide, inviting members of congress and legislators from Annapolis to his campus, showing them the old, outdated science building, with cramped quarters and bad equipment; and a roof that was leaking until recently. He wants lawmakers to see first-hand what he needs. If half the freshman class wanted to take biology this year, they couldn’t, because there simply isn’t enough lab space. And if students can’t take the prerequisite courses, graduation will be delayed.

But a new science building isn’t in the budget — yet.

Governor Martin O’Malley recently released Maryland’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget; trying to reduce a $2 billion deficit he cut costs across the board. One of the few items in the budget not to take a hit was higher education. While a 2 percent increase sounds small, most every other part of the budget went down by 1.3 percent.

“Any cuts in the budget tend to impact HBCUs and the student population that we serve disproportionately,” says Clinton R. Coleman, Morgan State University spokesperson. “Any cut in the budget really hits us harder.”

The governor’s office points out that the state’s historically Black colleges and universities did fairly well in the proposed budget — there’s a 3.3 percent increase in funding for historically Black institutions over the year before. Bowie and Morgan State received 28 percent of the $221 million allotted to all public four-year colleges. The governor’s spokesperson says funding for HBIs has increased more than 20 percent since O’Malley took office — HBIs have received about $700 million.

But the fact is, they need more to help make up for past years of neglect, according to a state commissioned report released last fall.

“Yes, HBCUs could use additional support, but all of higher education is crying out for support,” says Dr. Jim Lyons, secretary of higher education.

The governor is implementing his commitment to keeping college affordable by freezing tuition for in-state students for the fourth year in a row.

In these hard economic times, if college costs more, many people won’t be able to go. However, at Morgan State, not having a tuition hike may actually make it harder for students to afford college, Coleman says. More than 90 percent of Morgan State’s students receive financial aid, and since the school gives 25 percent of tuition back to students in financial aid dollars — without additional tuition dollars, the money can’t be given back to students.

“The governor should be commended for holding the line on tuition, but for us it is a struggle. It’s a struggle worth making,” Coleman says. “We’ll probably have fewer students … It’s going to be the difference between going to college and not going to college for a lot of students.”

Like many other universities right now the already short-staffed school has a hiring freeze. “Professors take their overloaded schedules and load them up even more,” Coleman says. Employees have been furloughed — some are working five days a year without pay. “Everybody is giving something,” he says. The school is finding new ways to cut costs, for example, Morgan State saved $1.2 million in energy costs

In the new budget, Coppin State University will receive about $3.8 million more than last year, says Dr. Monica Randall, associate vice president for public policy and government relations. “It’s very good, it really is,” she says.

Coppin State’s $109 million physical education center opens this fall; the new budget allots money for the facility’s upkeep.

“The funds the governor put in will allow us to do things like heat it,” Randall says. “You need to be able to do things like turn on the lights.”

When you look at the budget, two big numbers jump out for HBCUs.

First, there’s $34 million allocated for a performing arts center at Bowie State.

“We expected that,” Burnim says. “This building has been in the queue for 10 or 15 years. This is not a surprise; it’s not something that we have just started to ask for and it just appeared.” Still, he’s glad the governor didn’t delay building. “That’s the best I could realistically hope for this year,” Burnim says.

The budget also has $27.4 million for Morgan State’s new Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies.

“We have a backlog of construction needs,” Coleman says. “While we’ve done quite a bit of building over the past 10 years — we could do an equal amount of building over the next 10 and I still don’t think we’d be caught up.”

Morgan State’s new business school has been delayed. “We were supposed to begin construction on that in the foreseeable future,” Coleman says. Other renovation and remodeling projects around campus have been put off until 2012.

When you talk to officials at the state’s four HBCUs, they say they are grateful for what they got, and they understand why they didn’t get more in these tough economic times.

While pretty much every lawmaker contacted by Diverse points out that higher education has a 2 percent increase — Bowie State’s Burnim counters that the increase is from the current base — which has been reduced a couple times over the last few months. “When the base is reduced, we have less money,” Burnim says. “It’s still less money than we would have had.”

At Bowie State, the hiring freeze continues and there’s no money for raises. There will be less cash for faculty travel, and educational equipment. “We’ll do the best we can, but with limited funds it’s just tough,” Burnim says. “It’s a challenge. It’s a major challenge.”

With budget cuts, it will be harder for HBCUs to grow enrollment and improve graduation rates. “It’s going to delay the results we’re working to achieve,” Burnim says.

The governor’s new budget came on the heels of what’s being called “the Bohanan Report.” Released in October, the report confirmed what the state’s Black college advocates maintained for years: that state officials have failed to fulfill a court order to remedy vestiges of past discrimination and to improve programs and facilities at HBIs. The report stated that Maryland HBCUs needed more money so they can be comparable and competitive with the state’s majority White public colleges and universities.

“Lots and lots more,” Coleman says. “But, at the same time, the state is saying, ‘This won’t be funded for quite a long time.’ They are saying they simply don’t have the money.”

Adds Coleman: “If you are trying to make sure that your two children are equal in every way, then you can’t go to a child and say, ‘I realize I’ve been neglecting you over the years, so I’m going to buy you a whole new wardrobe.’ And then go to the child who’s not been neglected and say, ‘Well, I want you to feel loved as well, so I’m going to buy you a new wardrobe.’ To level the playing field, you have to do more for one than for another.”

Still, Coleman says, the report is an acknowledgement, a validation of what HBCU presidents have been saying for years. Even if it isn’t funded immediately, it’s nice that lawmakers acknowledge what needs to be done.

“We have to be patient because everyone is suffering these days,” Coleman says. “We’d be surprised if any aspect of the Bohanan report would be acted upon this year. Everyone in the state has no money. Everyone has to take a hit.”

Many didn’t expect the committee’s recommendations to be in the new budget.

Still, Del. John L. Bohanan, Jr., D-St. Mary’s County, believes the commission did have some impact. “The budget director for the state sat on our commission,” says Bohanan, chair of subcomittee on education and economic development. “She was able to take back two years of meetings and factor that into the development of the budget. The changes we’re going to see as a result of the HBI study panel will be adopted over the years. I don’t think it’s going to be something that causes an immediate upward spike.”

One of the report’s main recommendations is creating a new program to support students at HBIs who may not be academically prepared for college when they walk onto campus. The access and success program has been in place since 1999, each of the four HBCUs currently split $6 million. In the coming weeks, Bohanan says he is planning to propose new legislation that will create a new, standardized and hopefully more successful program. He estimates it will cost about $1,400 per student.

“That’s not a huge price tag,” he says. “I’m hoping as things recover we’re able to meet it fairly quickly.”

In the meantime, Maryland’s HBIs will continue to do the best they can with what they have.

“HBIs have never had a surplus of money,” says Dr. Thelma B. Thompson, president of the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. “What we’ve had is a surplus of good will and hope and positive thinking. We wear many hats, work very hard and get the job done. It’s never been about what we cannot do because of lack of funds. Our very survival is a testament to the fact that we’ve done good work with little.”

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