Panel: black universities need funds

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland must spend more on its historically black colleges and universities if they are to make up a wide gap in graduation rates and campus facilities compared with other public universities, a state panel has found.

The panel's 34-page report, released yesterday, identifies many ways in which Maryland's four public historically black colleges have fallen behind other state schools - in science and technology labs, buildings, and retention and graduation rates.

"Substantial additional resources must be invested in [the historically black colleges] to overcome the competitive disadvantages caused by prior discriminatory treatment," the report said, without specifying how much is needed. But the chairman of the panel, which reported to key state legislators, said the colleges can also shift money around and make better use of what they already have.

The report was prepared by a group of national higher education experts who were asked to advise Maryland legislators on how to improve the state's historically black universities. The panel reported to the General Assembly's Spending Affordability Committee.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., the committee's co-chairman, warned yesterday that the state faces its worst budget outlook in years and that little new money will be available. So black colleges will be asked to find inexpensive ways to boost their graduation rates, he said.

"It could be in some cases they need so much that we're not going to get there," said Bohanan, a Southern Maryland Democrat, so the institutions will need to determine what's really important to them. "There's not going to be a whole slew of new money."

Since 2001, the state has targeted $400 million to its black campuses in an effort to make up for decades in which a dual system of higher education neglected the black colleges - Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. But the schools have failed to improve on key indicators.

Graduation rates are 20 to 30 points below traditionally white universities like Towson and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and SAT scores at the black schools are 200 to 250 points lower. This is partly a factor of the lower admissions standards at black colleges, whose mission includes providing access to higher education for students who would not otherwise have an opportunity.

The report found that more than 80 percent of students at black colleges "need further preparation to succeed in college." So more money is needed for academic advisers, summer programs that begin after high school and other efforts to get students up to speed. Already, the black colleges share $6 million a year under the Access and Success program for those purposes.

"It hasn't been successful," said David S. Spence, chairman of the black colleges panel and president of the Southern Regional Education Board. "We've got to use that money and probably a modest amount more, but it's got to be directed to the right thing."

The schools should propose specific programs to increase graduation rates. They also must redirect money toward financial aid because many students drop out simply because they can no longer afford college, the report said.

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