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Higher education officials look to prevent student drain, honor HBCU settlement

Jack Hogan//September 19, 2023

Higher education officials look to prevent student drain, honor HBCU settlement

By Jack Hogan

//September 19, 2023

MHEC Chair Catherine "Cassie" Motz said Maryland must ensure that its schools offer “as many 21st century, cutting-edge programs available to them in Maryland as possible." (Submitted Photo)
MHEC Chair Catherine “Cassie” Motz said Maryland must ensure that its students have  “as many 21st century, cutting-edge programs available to them in Maryland as possible.” (Submitted Photo)

In reforming how Maryland reviews degree program proposals, higher education officials are seeking to keep more students in-state while still honoring a $577 million settlement awarded to historically Black colleges and universities.

Maryland is a net exporter of college-bound high school graduates, and in 2020 the number of students who left the state to pursue a higher education was more than double the number of students who went to the state, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The state ranked 45th in the country, according to an import/export ratio from the department of college-bound high school students.

To improve, the state must ensure that prospective students have “as many 21st century, cutting-edge programs available to them in Maryland as possible,” said Catherine “Cassie” Motz, chair of the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), which establishes statewide policies for public and private colleges and universities.

“The opportunity is twofold. There’s the first: growing Maryland’s talent base, expanding our programs so that we can reverse this trend of students going out of state, retaining and attracting students to increase our state’s competitiveness,” Motz said in a phone interview.

Motz said the current process doesn’t incentivize collaboration among the state’s colleges and universities. Rather, it pits them against each other.

“The competition shouldn’t be the Maryland university up the interstate or across the Bay Bridge,” Motz said. “The competition should be our surrounding states.”

She said MHEC should help colleges and universities increase their program offerings to better compete with neighboring states.

“Equally important,” Motz said, “is honoring the decision in the HBCU lawsuit and making sure that our HBCUs are positioned to thrive, as they are critical to meeting the needs of our students.”

In 2021, Maryland reached a $577 million settlement to end a 15-year lawsuit alleging the state underfunded its four HBCUs for decades.

The settlement money was meant to pay for degree programs, student scholarships, faculty salaries and marketing at the HBCUs.

As recently as August, one of Maryland’s HBCUs and its allies in the state legislature questioned whether the program approval process has aligned with the settlement.

Morgan State University President David K. Wilson said that a since-withdrawn proposal from Towson University was a “classic case of program duplication” — the type that led to the lawsuit.

Shortly after being appointed in July, Motz and Higher Education Secretary Sanjay Rai issued a memo asking for schools to take a voluntary pause on any degree program proposals to which another institution has objected until December, when a legislative work group is expected to make recommendations.

The commission doesn’t have the authority to postpone the academic review process without the consent of the proposing university.

The work group, which comprises state lawmakers, university presidents, program directors and Rai, met Tuesday to discuss the role that university mission statements should play in the academic review process.

College and university presidents are required to develop a mission statement that’s consistent with Maryland’s statewide higher education plan and promotes an effective use of available resources.

Work group members discussed, among other potential recommendations, whether mission statements should make mention of degree programs a college or university is considering — a change meant to facilitate dialogue between schools.

Since Motz and Rai sent their memo, the commission has held three academic review hearings following claims of duplication and potential harm.

Two of the programs, one from Stevenson University and another from Johns Hopkins University, were “already in the queue,” Motz said.

“We went forward under the existing legal framework,” Motz said of the two proposals, to which the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — one of the state’s HBCUs — and the University of Maryland, Baltimore objected.

The third hearing was for the Towson business analytics doctoral program to which Morgan State objected. Towson later withdrew the proposal, and university officials plan to reintroduce it at a later date.

In accordance with the memo, Towson also temporarily withdrew a proposed Ph.D. in sustainable and environmental change to which Morgan State objected.

And the University of Maryland, Baltimore paused its proposal for a doctor of social work program to which Morgan State objected, according to MHEC.

The commission is still expected to issue decision letters for the proposals from Stevenson and Johns Hopkins in the coming days, but there will likely be a break from review hearings until after the work group makes its recommendations.

“I don’t anticipate having any other review hearings before December,” Motz said.


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