Chairman Currie, Chairman Carter-Conway, and Committee Members:
I am pleased to offer my support for Senate Bill 861, the legislative effort to begin implementation of the recommendations for the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education. I see this legislation as an important first step toward bringing, equity, stability and predictability to the way we fund higher education in our state. I want to commend the members of the Commission for their hard work over the course of the past two years. The Commission examined many important and complex issues relating to our institutions and the students we serve. The far-reaching recommendations reflected in Senate Bill 861 demonstrate a deep commitment to enhancing our higher education system. I offer a few comments on some of these recommendations.
The goal of funding the public higher education institutions relative to comparable institutions in competitor states is commendable and I support the notion that Bowie State and the other historically black institutions should be funded at the 80thpercentile of our peers in competitor states. It will take us a good while to get there, but it is important that the state is committing to these funding goals. I applaud the Governor and the General Assembly for creating and reauthorizing the Higher Education Investment Fund to provide a dedicated funding source to support higher education. I believe the intent of SB 861 is that the HEIF money would supplement and not supplant other state funds.
The bill also provides for more financial aid, including need-based aid. I strongly support these measures to increase access and make higher education more affordable to more students. We are doing what we can to provide much-needed financial assistance to our students to help them persist through graduation. We appreciate the state's commitment to this effort.
Part of the mission of Bowie State University is to provide access to capable but under-prepared students. Many of our students come to us from the Prince George's County Public School System. It is critical that we examine college readiness in our secondary schools, and so I applaud the effort to develop a common definition of "college readiness" and to link data between the K-12 and higher educations systems in order to better inform policy and budgetary decisions. It will take the higher education and K-12 communities working more closely together to change the way we educate Maryland's students.
With respect to the provisions of SB 861 that implement the recommendations from the HBI Study Panel, I appreciate the recognition of our "dual mission" and the fact that we devote substantial resources to help the students I described above while also providing an affordable higher education for those who seek it. I welcome the dialogue on the best practices for helping our students matriculate. We have tried to use the Access and Success funds on efforts that we believe will have the greatest impact. SB 861 would bring more resources to bear in this ongoing effort. This additional funding is necessary, as the HBI Study Panel concluded.
We recognize the considerable effort it takes to fulfill our "dual mission" and the work it will take to improve graduation rates in light of our student mix. While I agree that graduation rates are an important measurement, I do not agree that it is the solemeasure of comparability and competitiveness. Rather, I am convinced that what will make Bowie State attractive to more students, and what will impact our "competitiveness" even more than our graduation rates is the quality of our academic programs and the facilities that support those programs. I am pleased to see some attention given to facilities, particularly the request to the Governor to accelerate capital projects. Facilities are a critical component to our growth and overall competitiveness.
The provisions in SB 861 provide a roadmap for Maryland for the next decade. The funding recommendations should be considered a floor, not the ceiling. I urge a favorable report on SB 861.