Maryland HBCUs eye $577M discrimination settlement

Some believe the campus closures caused by coronavirus pandemic could have bigger impact on HBCUs

Four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Maryland are in line for a $577M legal settlement to compensate for “years of institutional racial discrimination,” The Guardian reported.

In 2006, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education filed a lawsuit alleging the state duplicated innovative educational programs created at HBCUs to lure students to majority-white colleges and universities, according to The Guardian. 

The state’s legislature approved the HBCU settlement, which now awaits the signature of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Bowie, Coppin and Morgan State universities could use the funding to establish new degree programs, recruit faculty and invest in scholarships and financial aid, The Guardian reported.

How HBCUs are coping with coronavirus

Some believe the campus closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic could have a bigger impact on HBCUs than on other colleges and universities.

“Disruptions in enrollment and fundraising efforts, as well as closed dorms, prorated rebates, and lost revenue from food services and university bookstores will short-circuit normal streams of revenue for all universities,” Ivory Toldson, a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University, told The Conversation. “But HBCUs might see worse effects because they have less money to begin with.”

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HBCUs may risk losing accreditation and applicants if coronavirus closures cause significant financial instability, Marybeth Gasman, a professor of education at Rutgers University, told The Conversation. 

“I am worried about the technology demands on HBCUs, given how few IT specialists many smaller HBCUs have as well as the costs of managing online classes,” Gasman said. “I’m also worried about students not having access to Wi-Fi at home or laptops–75% of HBCU students are eligible for Pell Grants for students from low- to middle-income families.”

She noted that Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, was lending students laptops for the rest of the semester.

Concerns beyond COVID-19

The nation’s 101 HBCUs enrolled 6,000 fewer students during the 2018-19 school year, dropping to the second-lowest total since 2001, NBC News reported.

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1837 as the first HBCU, may be “on the verge of collapse,” having lost 38% of its student body in 2018, according to NBC News.

And enrollment at Bethune-Cookman College in Florida, dropped 20%.

“2020 will be a pivotal year in history of B-CU,” President, Brent Chrite wrote in a letter to alumni, according to NBC News. “It will be the year our beloved university prepared to close its doors, or it will be the year we turned a corner and began moving toward an exciting future.”

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Still, HBCUs remain crucial to access in higher ed as they enroll and graduate outsized share of black students in their states, District Administration reported last summer.

HBCUs enroll and graduate one-quarter of all black college students in the states in which the institutions operate, according to “HBCUs Punching Above Their Weight,” a 2018 report by the UNCF Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute.

While HBCUs comprise just 8.5% of the country’s four-year institutions, these schools award 26% of the bachelor’s degrees and 32% of the STEM degrees earned by black students, the report says.

“The findings are just confirmation of what the HBCU leadership community has been saying all along,” Roderick L. Smothers, president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, told DA. “When you look at the outcomes, one has to pause to ask how our institutions are doing this miraculous work with the resources we have.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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