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Despite Leadership, Maryland Higher Education Is Leaving Underserved Citizens Behind, Penn GSE Researchers Find

CONTACT: Kat Stein at 215-898-9642 or

Friday, February 17, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — Maryland’s higher education system is leaving poor, black and Hispanic residents behind, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Higher Education Research, “Much Accomplished, Much at Stake: Performance and Policy in Maryland Higher Education.”

At the same time, the stagnant economy has stalled Maryland’s efforts to hold down college costs, increase student aid and reduce the volatility of state funding for higher education, researchers Laura Perna and Joni Finney of Penn’s Graduate School of Education say in the report.

Maryland’s governor, legislators, colleges and universities have a strong record of working together to strengthen higher education. But, Maryland is in danger of losing hard-won ground, according to the third report in a multi-state study on higher education policies and performance.

More Marylanders must hold college degrees if the state is to compete in the 21st century economy, the researchers say. The state has set a goal of increasing the percentage of the adult population that holds at least an associate’s degree from 44 percent to 55 percent by 2025, but, according to Perna and Finney, that will not happen unless the state can reduce its longstanding inequities.

Only 33 percent of blacks and 20 percent of Hispanics ages 25-34 in Maryland hold at least an associate’s degree, compared to 51 percent of white Marylanders. And degree attainment among Hispanics, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the population, has been falling, not rising, Perna and Finney found.

Poor, black and Hispanic school children in Maryland score lower on standardized tests and drop out of high school more often than do wealthier, white school children; those who do attend college are less likely to finish their degrees. Yet, according to the report, Maryland lacks a coherent set of policies to ensure that more children are prepared for, attend and complete college.

The researchers indicate that Baltimore is particularly problematic. Home to 11 percent of Maryland’s population, Baltimore is much poorer and less white than the affluent suburban counties near Washington, D.C. Today in Baltimore, only 30 percent of adults hold at least an associate’s degree, compared with 44 percent in Maryland overall.

A key to bringing more Marylanders into higher education is holding down costs and making more student aid available. Maryland has taken promising steps in this direction, the researchers note.

In 2008, the Higher Education Funding Commission developed a far-sighted plan to boost the state’s investment in higher education, hold down tuition and increase state financial aid. The governor, legislators and college and university presidents worked together to freeze tuition at four-year institutions for four years, and in 2010 a new law capped undergraduate tuition increases.

But when the economy soured, many of the Funding Commission’s recommendations were put on hold until the economy improves. Moreover, despite the state’s efforts to hold down college costs, tuition in Maryland remains well above the national average.

The governor, the legislature and institutional leaders have made a concerted effort to build a comprehensive plan for higher education, Finney said. But, because of the economic downturn, the state has not been ably to fully implement the Funding Commission’s blueprint.

The commission established commendable targets, Finney said, “but these were unrealistic in the face of falling tax revenue. Unless the state’s leaders can find an approach that works in a weak economy as well as a strong one, higher-education reform in Maryland is in danger of stalling.”

The full report is available at Studies on Illinois and Washington were released earlier this year, and studies on Georgia and Texas will be released in the coming months.