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Md. HBI remedy lacking

Fifteen years after Maryland committed to enhance its historically black institutions (HBIs) through a partnership agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and after many years of litigation and mediation, the state has proposed a "remedy" ostensibly designed to eliminate the vestiges of de jure era segregation found to still exist in Maryland's higher education system. Rather than offering programmatic enhancements that would support our efforts to bring greater diversity to our campuses, the state has offered nominal support in the form of summer programs for high school students and joint academic programs between our institutions and the state's traditionally white institutions (TWIs). While we appreciate the daunting task before the state, its proposal is disappointing.

Bowie State, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Coppin State have a "dual" mission that draws on a rich history of providing access and opportunity, while also supporting workforce development. The Economist magazine recently ranked Bowie State as No. 1 in Maryland for providing the greatest educational value for students, as measured by what they earn after graduation relative to expected income projections. Named a top 1890 land-grant institution by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, UMES is uniquely positioned to address critical state needs. The Business Research Guide ranked Coppin State's business departments among the top 50 most innovative small college business departments. Collectively, our institutions enroll more than 12,000 students annually, the bulk of whom are Maryland residents.

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Academic programs drive our enrollment. We not only have the capacity to educate more students, we have a strong commitment to recruiting a more diverse student population. Bowie once boasted significant white student enrollment, particularly at the graduate level. Much of the diversity at UMES may be attributed to a small number of unique, high-impact graduate and undergraduate programs. We know the most critical factor in attracting students of any race is high quality academic programs. The court even suggested that creation of new programs should be part of the remedy for years of unnecessary program duplication. It is disheartening, therefore, that the state's proposal contains no new programs that would serve to strengthen our institutions and position them for further growth.

It is not clear how the state's proposal would eliminate the vestiges of the "dual system" of higher education. The proposal includes up to $10 million for joint programs, spread among the state's four HBIs (and shared with the TWIs) over five or six years.

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We certainly support collaboration, which is also strongly encouraged by the University System of Maryland. Each of our institutions has long standing partnerships with our sister institutions and is pursuing more. There is great value and efficiency in sharing resources and talent among institutions, all to benefit our students, faculty and staff. At the same time, we are committed to growing our institutions and attracting more non-African American students. We simply do not believe the state's proposal for a few joint degrees and certificate programs has the depth or breadth to make a significant difference on our campuses.

The state also proposes a summer program for high-achieving high school students, to add to the existing array of summer programs we already administer. Presumably, the thinking is that such a program would help our institutions attract the "best and brightest" students by exposing them to our institutions during summer "academies." Experience suggests, however, that the impact would likely be marginal, especially given the minimal funding offered to support this effort. Students are primarily interested in the variety and quality of academic programs we have and the physical space in which they will learn. Offering more high-demand, high-quality academic programs would have a much greater impact on our efforts to attract the best and brightest students and increase diversity at our institutions. We are perplexed, therefore, that the state's proposal fails to take into account our thinking.

We are proud to be a part of Maryland's higher education system. Maryland's leaders clearly understand the inextricable link between higher education and economic development. The state's goal of increasing the number of Marylanders with college degrees demonstrates its commitment to ensuring an educated workforce. We are committed to doing our part to produce graduates who are able to compete in the global economy. Unfortunately, with its proposal to remedy the effects of unnecessary program duplication, the state has missed an opportunity to make a great system of higher education even greater.

Mickey L. Burnim (president@bowiestate.edu) is president of Bowie State University, Juliette Bell (president@umes.edu) is president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Maria Thompson (president@coppin.edu) is president of Coppin State University.

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