In what University of Maryland Eastern Shore President Heidi M. Anderson called “a defining moment” in school history, she witnessed Gov. Larry Hogan sign a law March 24 to resolve a 15-year federal lawsuit that challenged the fundamental history of how the state supports its public institutions of higher education.
The new law pledges $577 million in supplemental funding to Maryland's four historically Black institutions – University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Bowie State, Coppin State and Morgan State – over a 10-year period beginning July 1, 2022. UMES' estimated annual allocation is $9.6 million.
The money is state government's answer to what plaintiffs claimed was an inequitable policy of financial support for its public colleges dating back decades. Lawsuit proponents pointed to the duplication of degree programs – especially in the Baltimore area, where schools like Morgan and Coppin compete intensely for students with the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Towson University.
A federal judge sided with alumni and friends of Maryland's HBCUs who signed on as plaintiffs and directed the state to work out a resolution.
The same $577 million settlement was included in a 2020 legislative package just as the COVID-19 pandemic began casting a dark cloud over the economy. Hogan vetoed the measure, citing worries that making such a long-term commitment could be catastrophic for Maryland's economy.
At a ceremony on the Bowie State campus, Hogan, a Republican, said the outlook is brighter.
“We're here today to enact an historic, bipartisan measure that will be an unprecedented step forward in addressing inequities in our higher education system by making substantial investments in Maryland's historically Black colleges and universities," he said.
Hogan said his administration, over the past seven years, had shown a willingness to address complaints about funding inequities.
“This legislation … will provide even more critical investments for all of these institutions,” Hogan said. “It brings to an end a more than 15-year- long legal battle that we inherited and spent years working hard to resolve in a fair and equitable manner.”
Anderson and her advisers are still sorting through ideas on how the supplemental funding will be spent over the next 10-plus years, guided by wording in the law that stipulates it must be used for academic purposes, support for faculty and marketing the institutions to boost enrollment.
“It's a defining day for us, and for the citizens of the state,” Anderson said after the bill signing. “We are going to be able to bring new programming that will help the citizens - things like healthcare disparities and food insecurity. And we will remember this day forever.”
In a message to campus, Anderson said, “I want all of us to express our deepest gratitude to the many people and groups who have brought us to this moment.”
She singled out those who signed on to the lawsuit and legal team that took on the challenge of successfully arguing the case.
Much work still needs to be done, Anderson noted in her campus message.
“Our task is to 'pick up the baton' … and continue to move forward ensuring these funds will sustain our universities for the future providing scholarships to deserving students and helping us to launch new, in-demand programs to attract new students.”