Chairman Currie and members of the Committee:
I am pleased to offer comments in support of SB 544. As President of the oldest HBI in Maryland, I applaud the sponsors for the bold initiatives proposed in this legislation to move the state's historically black institutions more quickly toward parity with our TWI counterparts. Maryland has an outstanding collection of public higher education institutions, offering a diverse array of programs. The University System of Maryland, of which we a part, is an excellent system. I spent a decade leading an HBI in the North Carolina System. I believe a system is only as strong as its weakest parts. SB 544 speaks to some of the weaknesses in our otherwise very strong system.
The bill provides for the establishment of a program of state aid for HBIs to make them comparable and competitive. The mere establishment of such a program speaks volumes about the state's commitment to the HBIs and is an acknowledgement that funding disparities exist. The Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education ("Bohanan Commission") confirmed this point with the adoption of recommendations from the HBI Study Panel it appointed. That panel visited my campus and had an opportunity to see first-hand the enormous challenges we face moving our institution forward because of the condition of some of our facilities. We certainly support the Bohanan Commission's recommendations that special attention be given to capital needs at HBIs. Indeed, I testified in support of the legislation codifying the recommendations from the Bohanan Commission (SB 861). The Bohanan legislation includes uncodified language requesting that the Governor increase funding for capital projects for all institutions and requesting acceleration of projects at the HBIs. The Bohanan bill also provides for a deliberative process by which we will determine some of our specific funding needs. While SB 544 provides some of the specific funding requirements lacking in the Bohanan Bill, the specific targets in SB 544 do not appear to reflect the type of careful deliberative process implied in the Bohanan Bill. As a result, there might be unintended consequences. For example, 35% of the USM capital budget sounds good but could actually result in less money to the HBIs in some years.
Section 17-404, paragraph (C)(4)(II) is unclear so I don't know whether it would be beneficial to Bowie State or not. It seems intended to address funding for academic support as described in the Bohanan Bill. If so, I would prefer the use of expert consultants in determining the needs as specified in the Bohanan Bill. I am also concerned about the ratios and percentages in paragraph (D). In general, I prefer more latitude rather than less, and I would not want to be bound by these presently favorable, but arbitrary, percentages for contractual faculty and staff.
I like the provisions in SB 544 that call for additional dollars for student financial aid. These additional funds will help us retain more students and help our students graduate. Again, the Bohanan Commission dealt with this issue and established laudable goals for increasing financial aid statewide. SB 544 goes further, requiring that these funds be provided directly to the HBI campuses.
SB 544 and SB 861 are not mutually exclusive in my view. Both sets of sponsors are to be commended for the thoughtful approaches to the complex issue of comparability and competitiveness. It is my hope that the best of both approaches can be adopted and that Maryland moves closer to the day when supplemental measures and special enhancements for HBIs become unnecessary.