T-shirts from Bowie State University's 2019 commencement are shown here. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** T-shirts from Bowie State University's 2019 commencement are shown here. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

One of Maryland’s top presiding officers will use policy to try and settle a more than 13-year-old lawsuit between the state and its four historically Black colleges and universities.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones will sponsor legislation for the governor to allocate $580 million over a 10-year period to help establish new programs, invest in scholarship and financial aid programs and recruit new faculty.

The figure represents a settlement offer agreed to by the plaintiffs that represent various organizations and HBCU supporters against the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Officials at the four universities – Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and Maryland Eastern Shore – would also work with the University of Maryland Global Campus to implement online courses and other programs.

A town hall on the subject is scheduled for Feb. 27 at Coppin State in Baltimore.

Sharon Blake, who’s helping to organize the event, said lawmakers such as Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson are the right people to help lead the effort to change policy.

“We had some wrong legislators in place to explain the importance and value of HBCUs here in Maryland,” said Blake, a 1972 Morgan State graduate and former Maryland lieutenant governor candidate. “I’m confident something will finally happen, but we still need to educate residents and even some legislators on why this is so important.”

Each university brings a perspective not only on Black history, but also distinctiveness from predominately white schools such as vibrant marching bands, fraternity and sorority life and smaller class sizes. In addition, tuition costs aren’t as high.

Three of the four schools — Coppin, Morgan and UMES — compete athletically in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Bowie State participates in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) at the Division II level.

But each Maryland HBCU offers its own unique setting.

Bowie State serves as Maryland’s oldest HBCU established in 1865 as a teacher’s college.

The suburban campus in northern Prince George’s County houses a Center for Cyber Security and Emerging Technologies, which provides education and research in cyber defense. It also houses a Maryland Center for School Safety office on the campus that opened last year.

It’s also home to the 2019 CIAA football champions and hosted a Division II playoff game in December.

Coppin State and Morgan State universities represent Baltimore City, but are located in two different locations.

Morgan State, founded in 1867, represents the state’s largest HBCU with an average yearly enrollment of 7,700 students.

The school on the east side of Baltimore proposes to build a medical school, specifically College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Morgan State president David Wilson said it would be the first medical school on a HBCU campus in 45 years. He summarized other aspects of the school before a House of Delegates education subcommittee session Feb. 6 in Annapolis.

“When you make an investment at Morgan, you should expect a significant return on that,” he said. “We think we have a very good story to tell at Morgan…”

Coppin State was established in 1900 as the Colored High School, a teacher college for Blacks. The school later was renamed after a Black educator, Fannie Jackson Coppin.

It currently serves as the state’s smallest HBCU with about 2,718 students, according to 2018 enrollment data.

The urban campus houses a state-of-the-art Simulation and Learning Resource Centers for students pursuing career in the health profession.

Juan Dixon, who led the University of Maryland’s basketball team to its first national title in 2002, works as head coach of Coppin State’s men’s basketball team.

“I received a familial and small school experience, but with a robust education,” said Janna Parker of Temple Hills, who graduated from Coppin in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and history. “We are the smallest, but the heartiest. We are very Coppin proud.”

More than two hours away, Black students can study in a rural setting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore established in 1886 as a land-grant institution.

One of the school’s key majors, agriculture, allows students to learn plant breeding, landscape design and food safety.

Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, a Democrat and the only Black representative from the Eastern Shore, heard a presentation Friday, Feb. 7 in regards to how UMES students can help the poultry industry by monitoring air quality in the region. The school with about 3,100 students remains the only HBCU in Maryland with an active farm.

“Not only would we be able to strengthen programs that are in existence, but also new things to what they can do and be known for it,” she said. “It would be a sad mistake to say, ‘Ok, lawsuit settled. You get this money. We’re slowing down on your funding.’ That can’t happen.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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