The recent unrest in Baltimore, involving primarily young African-Americans, highlights serious problems that for years have not been widely recognized. Maryland is a very affluent state and it is easy to overlook the problems of the city when suburban jurisdictions that comprise the Baltimore-Washington-corridor rank high on most socio-economic indicators. To those of us who closely observe the persistent disparities between Baltimore and Maryland's large suburban counties, many of the forces that fueled the unrest have long been apparent.
There is widespread agreement that lack of education is an underlying cause of much of the disillusionment we have witnessed. Effectively educating more of our young people is a proven approach to increasing the likelihood that they will be competitive in the contemporary economy and become good citizens and parents. Failure to educate so many of our young African American residents is ironic because the Baltimore area is the location of such a large share of the state's higher education institutions. Six of the state's 12 public four-year campuses are located either within Baltimore city or inside the Baltimore beltway, including all of the University of Maryland's highly-regarded professional schools. There's also an equally impressive number of private universities: Johns Hopkins University, the largest recipient of federal research funding in the nation, and Goucher, Loyola, the Maryland Institute College of Art and Notre Dame. Further, Baltimore City Community College provides both degree and transfer opportunities for students as do the three campuses of the Community College System of Baltimore County. Ironically, only a few of these campuses enroll significant numbers of black recent high school graduates from Baltimore city. And the situation has worsened in recent years as the number of black high school graduates from the city who enroll anywhere in Maryland higher education has declined to crisis levels.
According to data published by the state's higher education coordinating board, in fall 2013, Towson enrolled only 15 black entering freshmen from the city and UMBC enrolled only eight. Goucher, Hopkins, Loyola, Maryland Institute College of Art and Notre Dame combined enrolled only 19. These small entering freshmen classes were drawn from a high school graduating class from Baltimore of nearly 4,200 African Americans in that same year.
By comparison, the Community College of Baltimore County system enrolled 364 black freshmen from the city while Baltimore City Community College enrolled 195. Coppin enrolled 105, Morgan enrolled 114, and The University of Baltimore enrolled 87. The community colleges have open admissions policies, while the four-year campuses have relatively liberal admissions standards.
In recent years, the number of black college freshmen from Baltimore City enrolling at any campus in Maryland has declined dramatically, a situation that has not been widely recognized or studied by state officials. In 2009, 2,617 black freshmen from the city enrolled somewhere in Maryland higher education. By 2013, this number had declined to 1,447, a decline of 1,170, or 45 percent. This is despite the fact that the number of Baltimore City public high school graduates increased slightly during this period. Statewide, the number of black freshmen also declined sharply, but not nearly as significantly as for Baltimore. Freshmen from jurisdictions other than the city declined by just over 1,000, or 12.5 percent, between 2009 and 2013. Black high school graduates statewide were stable during the period, which again begs the question of what these recent graduates are doing if they are not attending college, and not gainfully employed. Last week gave us an answer.
There is an obvious access crises to higher education for a state in which 34 percent of public high school graduates are black.
Morgan is designated by statute as Maryland's public urban university, but it has never been funded to comprehensively execute this mission.
Other than teaching, there are numerous ways in which a well-developed comprehensive urban research university can enhance the city in which it is located. Think Temple University, or Wayne State, Georgia State or Portland State, to name a few. Strong research programs mean than such a campus can concentrate on examining issues of importance to the city and can attract faculty, funding and other resources to carry out a mission to respond to urban challenges. Most faculty at research campuses concentrate on research and scholarly work of importance to their disciplines. But, at urban universities they are expected to concentrate on work of importance to their community. This results in research with practical consequences in areas such as workforce development, education and training, transportation systems, strengthening the family, health and nutrition, housing and business development. In the case of Baltimore, a world-class research campus would be expected to come up with the reasons that the college-going rate has declined so significantly in recent years and to offer evidenced-based strategies to address neighborhood re-development, crime prevention, improving teaching and school administration, and reducing health disparities. A campus focused exclusively on the needs of a city would also be expected to have a tradition of successfully educating the underprepared students who would be expected to graduate from a large urban public school system. This is a proposition that requires a tradition and culture in order to be successful at the college level and campuses with stratospheric admissions standards cannot be expected to do this to a significant degree. At Morgan, we have a summer and first-year program for students who do not fully meet our admissions standards. The extra attention they obtain through this program raises their graduation rate, on average, by about 15 percentage points above that of students who enter without the requirement to participate in this program. Ideally, we would like to extend this program to all students but we do not have the resources required to do so.
There are no rapid solutions to the problems faced by cities such as Baltimore. It took a long time to get to the current situation and it will take years to reverse the conditions that are of concern. There also is no single entity that can fix most of what needs fixing. A long-term partnership among the various segment of the community, the private sector, and government, is a requirement. A well-developed comprehensive urban research university devoted to the needs of Baltimore should be an integral part of any viable strategy. For far too long, the state has lacked a meaningful plan for providing higher education in Baltimore City that is focused on the needs of the city. The state instead has focused on meeting the ambitions of the public campuses it has developed in the region. Because of its unique mission, tradition, and location, Morgan is well positioned to provide the research and deliver the services that comprise a comprehensive approach to the renewal of Baltimore. The state should make a long-term commitment to Morgan in order that it can fulfill its charter to serve as the state's public urban university, and in the process, serve as an important part of the solution to solving Baltimore's myriad problems once and for all.
David Wilson is president of Morgan State University. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.