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Federal Judge Settles 15-Year Legal Battle, Awards $577 Million to Maryland’s HBCUs to Combat State’s ‘Dual and Segregated Education System’

Last week a federal judge approved a $577 million settlement in a lawsuit over underfunding at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Maryland.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake announced the approved settlement on Wednesday, May 12, and said it adequately addressed what she previously described as “a dual and segregated education system” maintained by the state that violated the constitution.

The long-running legal battle was launched in 2006 over the state’s treatment of its HBCUs, and the ruling will provide $555 million in additional funding to the four institutions over the next 10 years. The total figure also includes $22 million in legal fees for the plaintiffs who pursued litigation.

Alumni and advocates of the schools who filed the lawsuit alleged that Maryland continued to undermine and underfund the institutions, even after the end of legal segregation. This treatment made it difficult for the institutions, including Bowie State University, Coppin State University and Morgan State University in Baltimore, and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, to successfully compete with other schools for students and resources, the suit alleged. Furthermore, white schools developed programs in conjunction with the state that attracted prospective students while Black schools were left out.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that the state allowed white schools to replicate degree programs pioneered by HBCUs. Blake ruled in 2013 that Maryland had in fact harmed HBCUs by allowing other schools to add similar degree programs.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, who covers higher education for The Washington Post, spoke to NPR last month about how the replication of similar degree programs at white schools hurt HBCUs.

“Morgan is the largest of the four and the only one that is a research university,” she said. “And it has been competing with many of the other schools within the Maryland system in order to continue to expand its research capabilities and hasn’t had much support of the state. And that’s kind of what is the underlying issue at the heart of this lawsuit. “

The funds will begin to be distributed based on enrollment in 2023 and will be directed toward scholarships and financial aid, as well as to faculty recruitment and development and to improving academic and online programs.

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year that set the stage for the settlement by forcing the state to agree and fund the deal.

The agreement was reached in cooperation with the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education and the organization’s attorneys.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who previously said he wouldn’t approve more than $200 million for the settlement, has already signed the bill.

“This settlement marks an historic investment in Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said. “It will enable these valued institutions to expand their academic reach and to assist thousands of students with getting the education they deserve.”

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