Maryland passes bill adding $577M for HBCUs, potentially ending long-running lawsuit

Dive Brief: 

  • The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill Sunday that would add nearly $580 million in funding over the next decade to the state’s four historically black universities. 
  • The funding could also end a prolonged lawsuit arguing that Maryland has underfunded its HBCUs and undercut their programs by launching similar ones at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), The Baltimore Sun reported
  • The bill puts funding for HBCUs back in the spotlight after several Democratic presidential hopefuls made it a central part of their higher education proposals. 

Dive Insight: 

A coalition of alumni from Maryland’s four HBCUs — Bowie State, Coppin State and Morgan State universities, as well as the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — allege that the state has long funded new programs at PWIs at the expense of their alma maters. 

A federal judge ruled in the coalition’s favor in 2013, saying Maryland has been propping up duplicative programs at its PWIs and therefore have hurt enrollment at its HBCUs. Since then, the state and the group have struggled to reach a resolution, despite several rounds of court-ordered mediation. 

The coalition sent a letter to Maryland’s legislature last year asking for $577 million to end the lawsuit, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time. In response, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, offered $200 million. The amount drew criticism from lawyers representing the coalition and some state lawmakers for being too low to address years of inequitable funding. 

The new bill, which will head to Hogan’s desk, would give the HBCUs the amount the coalition requested. The funding could be used in several ways, including for: 

  • Scholarships and financial aid
  • Faculty recruitment and development
  • Expanding academic programs, including those online
  • Academic support
  • Marketing

It also directs the University System of Maryland’s academic innovation division and a nonprofit consultancy to help the four HBCUs develop online programs and encourages those institutions to hire a consultant to help them launch programs. 

Bowie State, Coppin State and Morgan State universities did not respond to Education Dive’s request for comment Monday. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore declined to comment. 

The lawsuit is similar to one brought against Mississippi for allegedly underfunding its HBCUs. To settle the case, the state agreed in 2001 to spend $500 million more on the three institutions to bolster their academic programs, set up endowments and make capital improvements. 

Both cases highlight how HBCUs are chronically underfunded. The topic has been a talking point among Democratic presidential hopefuls, including some that have dropped out of the race.  

Front-runner Joe Biden has pledged $70 billion in additional funding to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has called for $15 billion to expand certain programs and infrastructure at historically black colleges and to make them tuition-free. 

HBCUs also secured $255 million in annual funding last year, primarily to support their STEM programs, and some institutions have seen heightened interest from donors. 

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