A report produced recently by the University of Baltimore (UB) analyzes the waning hope for Baltimore City Community College, a two-year school based in the city’s western district, less than a mile away from historically black Coppin State University. For years, BCCC had been an integral part of conversations in the city and in the state capital as a possible asset in a merger with Coppin and predominantly white UB.
But this most recent report offers recommendations from a task force chaired by UB President and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, to consider giving the nearly defunct campus with crumbling infrastructure, leadership deficits and little brand resonance in its community over to the University System of Maryland – after listing options for the school to merge with other two-year systems or to come under the governance authority of Morgan State University, the state’s flagship HBCU.
From the report:
“Whether this is a role that would interest the board and leadership of Morgan is unclear. They would have to address a few obvious disadvantages. For one, there is a significant difference in culture and perspective between a doctoral university and a community college. Secondly, it is unclear if Morgan sees itself as focused on the workforce and economic development needs of Baltimore City to the same degree as BCCC.”
“Finally, if BCCC were to affiliate with Morgan or with another institute of higher education, it would be essential to allow students at the community college to have a full range of choices if they should transfer after two years. A diverse selection of transfer institutions must be retained for graduates of BCCC, no matter the governance structure.”
At best, it seems hypocritical to believe that a historically black institution would have trouble or disinterest in serving a community college with a similar profile, and with which it has had long-standing transfer and articulation agreements. And that even if Morgan were to be interested, its mission would prohibit those same students from realizing the full benefits of articulation with a range of institutions.
And at the same time, the billion-dollar research driven University System of Maryland is better equipped than Morgan to do the job on both elements of support for BCCC? The same system found guilty of maintaining an illegal “separate and unequal” system of higher education for black and white students, and which now faces a landmark decision which could force the state to pay billions to make its four HBCUs whole, knows what to do with a predominantly black community college on the brink of insolvency?
Or could it be that the state has an interest in running around what it knows will be a major shift in programs, resources and appeal in favor of black colleges as a result of the pending decision? Maybe the USM knows that if it can seize BCCC, with its $30 million surplus, thousands of black students and vast opportunities in federal grants for workforce development and mid-level job training, it can lay the foundation for UB to absorb much of those assets, and to expand as a full university offering Baltimore’s working and professional citizens a range of degree-earning opportunities.
Maybe Maryland knows that regardless of the judge’s decision, it will be appealed and potentially make it to a conservative Supreme Court, and that in the interim, it can siphon more of the students likely to attend BCCC and to transfer to Morgan or Coppin to redirect them to UB, Towson University or other PWI options in the region.
Maybe the state gets that a community college in 21st century higher education is the new version of the first two years of the college experience, and that while most HBCUs serve that prepatory need for a range of students, larger institutions with higher admission standards can use community college partnerships to bolster enrollment, revenue, and grant-making opportunities attached to diversity and technical training – all while saving students money on housing and credit hours for two years.
Or maybe its something worse. Maybe the state realizes that it can produce reports, make recommendations, galvanize political support and move students and institutions around like chess pieces without media scrutiny and critique from the community, and that everyone with something to lose as a result – from HBCU regents to presidents – won’t say a damn word about it.
The truth is that Morgan State is an ideal partner to save BCCC, and can seamlessly integrate it into its existing mission of access and opportunity for Baltimore’s citizens. You don’t have to look far for a model on how it would work – the University of the District of Columbia already proves that a public metropolitan university can support undergraduate, community college and law school elements serving the present and future needs of the city where it is stationed.
And what the state does with BCCC will, at some level, impact the efficacy of what Morgan and Coppin can do to keep pace with the city’s changing industry and workforce needs. If all that Under Armor, Amazon and other major companies need can be found at UB or other institutions, there is no need for black colleges to be invited to the table on the direction of Baltimore’s economic development – because the HBCUs will have no stake in its strengthening.
Unless leaders at Morgan State, Coppin State and throughout Baltimore City’s black political and financial power structures figure out that what state legislators and USM officials say is good for black students and black institutions is inherently bad, then citizens who aren’t paying attention will never know the potential that lies within it historically and predominantly black institutions – even when they appear to be on life support.