By Barry Rascovar
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake missed the mark by a country mile in her decision on eliminating vestiges of racial separation in Maryland’s state colleges and universities.
Indeed, her remedy perpetuates Maryland’s “shameful history of de jure segregation throughout much of the past century.”
Blake wants Maryland’s predominantly white colleges to give up popular programs so historically black institutions (HBIs) can develop monopolies in those areas. This, she reasons, will send white students flocking to HBI campuses.
That idealistic but flawed logic – students have numerous options today that make mass transfers to HBIs highly unlikely – is now guiding discussions between the two parties in Blake’s courtroom.
Judge didn’t address central issue
But the root of the problem remains firmly intact. Indeed, it wasn’t even touched upon in Blake’s 60-page ruling.
The most effective and rational way to eliminate segregation at Maryland state colleges? Dramatically transform the schools that remain overwhelmingly segregated.
Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore were established to give African Americans separate college opportunities. That is still the case – only the education offered at HBIs too often is inferior:
- Which Maryland state colleges have, by a wide margin, the lowest SAT scores for entering freshmen? The HBIs.
- Which schools have the highest remediation needs, by far? The HBIs.
- Which schools have the lowest graduation rates, by far? The HBIs.
Maryland has tried to solve this by throwing money at the problem. Yet even Judge Blake concluded the HBIs get far more state aid per student than other colleges. This approach hasn’t worked.
Expensive construction projects for HBIs have given those campuses beautiful new buildings and state of the art equipment. Yet they remain segregated.
And they underperform academically, which punishes students.
As long as Maryland supports colleges grounded in perpetuating their role as HBIs, they will remain out of the mainstream – and unlikely to ever become well-integrated campuses.
That’s the cruel truth African American leaders don’t want to hear. Over the decades they have vehemently resisted any suggestion other than pouring more and more money into the HBIs.
They’re proud of their colleges, which have endured incredible hardships. They don’t want HBIs to lose their special status as incubators for African American professionals.
21st century solution needed
But this is the 21st century, not the early or mid-20th century. You can’t live in the past.
Colleges segregated by sex are nearly extinct. Military colleges are dwindling. Diversity, not exclusivity, is the goal of universities today.
It’s ironic that attempts to truly integrate Maryland higher education meet the strongest resistance from leaders of the African American community. White politicians have gone along with their African American colleagues rather than face a firestorm of angry bigotry accusations.
This simply continues the status quo – a de facto, segregated higher education system.
‘White’ campuses become more diverse
Students, meanwhile, are voting with their feet. Every year historically white state colleges draw a more diverse group of students:
- University College, the online option at the University of Maryland, enrolls more students of color (19,299) than whites (16,713).
- At College Park, white students (19,669) make up only a little over half the student body (37,241).
- At UMBC, white students (6,548) constitute less than half of overall enrollment (13,637).
- At the University of Baltimore, black (2,412) and white enrollment (2,888) is close to even.
Now look at the situation at Maryland’s four HBIs:
- Morgan State has 273 white students out of total of 6,677 (4 percent).
- Bowie State has 198 white students out of 4,731 (4 percent).
- UMES has 675 white students among its student body of 4,454 (15 percent).
- Coppin State counts just 49 white students out of a total of 3,039 (1.6 percent).
It’s not just whites who feel out of place on those campuses. Even fewer Asians or Hispanics sign up there. It’s a dismal situation.
Blake’s remedy might be part of a broader solution, but simply redistributing popular academic programs won’t do enough.
After all, colleges operate in a competitive marketplace. If HBI campuses remain comfortable islands of black students, other students will simply gravitate elsewhere. It’s already happening. Shifting academic programs isn’t a compelling answer.
Solutions too hot to handle
What might work? Mergers, consolidations and intensive collaborations among Maryland state colleges.
Here are some ideas – all too hot for politicians or educators to handle:
Salisbury University and UMES already are engaged in successful intra-campus academics that are popular with students from both institutions.
What’s now needed is a long-range plan to gradually merge Salisbury into UMES.
The goal should be strong academic centers of excellence on both the Salisbury and Princess Anne campuses – only 12 miles apart.
Two-campus institutions are eminently workable. A prime example: Stevenson University’s enormous success operating a liberal arts Greenspring Valley campus and a new, fast-growing Owings Mills campus with a quite different academic focus.
The howls of protests would be fierce. Yet the benefits for students attending a twin-campus University of Maryland, Eastern Shore would be immense.
Of all the HBIs, Morgan State University is best positioned to evolve into an academic gem. It needs special status, though, similar to the arrangement the state established for St. Mary’s College.
It would take considerable extra state support and creativity to develop a range of targeted, demanding, urban-focused programs that appeal to a rainbow of students from Mid-Atlantic states and beyond.
Few students arrive on this West Baltimore campus well prepared. Most need an enormous amount of remedial help. The graduation rate is a terrible 20 percent. Coppin needs to give laser-like attention to undergraduate education.
An affiliation with the Baltimore City Community College seems the best fit. After all, community colleges do a great job preparing poorly educated high school graduates for the rigors of college academics – Coppin’s biggest failing.
Close collaboration with the University of Baltimore is a necessity, too. UB offers quality undergraduate teaching for its diverse student body and popular post-graduate programs.
Consolidation or merger of the two nearby schools would be the best long-term outcome.
This campus should become the adopted “little sister” of the University of Maryland, College Park. There’s no telling how many niche programs from the flagship institution might fit neatly onto the Bowie campus.
The caliber of teaching would be vastly improved with this close collaboration, too.
A second step: Bring Prince George’s Community College onto the Bowie campus to mentor and prepare freshmen for college-level courses.
Adjusting to today’s realities
None of the four HBIs should continue to exist in their current role. Through no fault of their own they represent the shameful, segregated past. They were created and perpetuated to keep the races separate.
That separation remains in place today, but for different reasons.
It is time to put this sad history to rest through steps that truly integrate Maryland’s HBIs into this century’s more inclusive American society.