The Washington Post

State’s HBCUS race to erect and fix buildings as enrollment­s set records

Pressure on aging infrastruc­tures is rising with the student counts

- BY SABRINA LEBOEUF AND MAYA LORA Baltimore sun librarian Paul Mccardell contribute­d to this report.

BALTIMORE — One week before move-in, Neya Glover learned she wouldn’t be placed in a dormitory as expected.

The Morgan State University sophomore was one of 465 students who were housed at the Lord Baltimore Hotel last semester because there weren’t enough residence hall spots.

Living in the hotel meant Glover, a member of Morgan State’s second year of record enrollment, needed to take a 20-minute shuttle to and from campus. As a result, she didn’t join any clubs or participat­e in many on-campus activities.

But at least she had a place to live, with a bed, fridge and desk.

“I was just happy I got something,” Glover said.

Rising enrollment numbers at historical­ly Black colleges and universiti­es, known as HBCUS, across Maryland and the United States are putting pressure on aging infrastruc­ture at institutio­ns like Morgan State.

For decades, HBCUS have been underfunde­d compared with other colleges, leaving them with infrastruc­ture that’s damaged, broken or unable to accommodat­e growth.

Now, Maryland’s historical­ly Black institutio­ns hope to capitalize on increased student demand by working through laundry lists of maintenanc­e issues to make campuses comfortabl­e and modern.

“It’s become even more critical,” Sidney H. Evans, Morgan State’s executive vice president for finance and administra­tion, said of updating the campus, which spans more than 185 acres. “You do not want to miss this.”

While college enrollment overall has been on the decline nationwide, HBCU undergradu­ate enrollment grew 2.5 percent as of last fall, according to the National Student Clearingho­use, a nonprofit that conducts student data reporting. Maryland HBCUS were no exception.

Still, at Morgan State, some classrooms can be too hot or cold, leading to distractio­n or classes being moved. Lab faucets at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore run with rust-ridden water, according to UMES President Heidi Anderson.

Such issues come partially as a result of historic underfundi­ng at the state and federal levels for HBCUS. Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at the

United Negro College Fund, said a prevailing assumption that HBCUS are “inferior” has led to, at best, an implicit bias that means officials do not fund the institutio­ns at the same rate as other colleges.

Murray said the coronaviru­s pandemic paved the way for HBCUS to request and receive funding. But he noted that the money — over $5 billion during the pandemic — came with restrictio­ns that prevent usage for “sorely needed” everyday operationa­l funding.

“Something particular­ly special is happening on those campuses that cultivates the most underserve­d students to be achievers more than large, wellresour­ced, better-endowed institutio­ns,” Murray said. “If they’re doing that with few resources, what could they do if they were well funded?”

Even when HBCUS do receive funding, facilities are usually the last to receive attention, Evans said. Money mainly goes toward scholarshi­ps, faculty salaries and programmin­g, not infrastruc­ture. For example, a recent settlement of $577 million — the result of a judge’s determinat­ion that the state of Maryland hurt its four HBCUS by letting historical­ly White universiti­es host similar degree programs in proximity — is designated for programmin­g.

Furthermor­e, the state prohibits universiti­es from using state money for residence halls, reasoning that universiti­es profit from such buildings through room and board fees, said Kim Mccalla, Morgan State’s associate vice president of facilities, design and constructi­on management.

Morgan State has received funding from the HBCU Capital Financing Program, run by the federal Education Department, which provides loans that can be used to refinance capital project loans, renovate existing facilities or build new ones. Morgan received approval for loans in 2018, 2020 and 2022, totaling about $160 million, for a variety of purposes, including renovating campus buildings, refinancin­g debt and building a new public safety center, according to the program’s website.

An Education Department spokespers­on said in an email that the program acknowledg­es “all HBCUS have suffered from neglect, deferred maintenanc­e and are in need of capital improvemen­ts.”

Evans said the status of Morgan State’s campus buildings is poor to fair, but improving. That assessment comes after the university spent roughly $1 billion in the past 12 years on new buildings and plans to spend a billion more.

At Maryland’s HBCUS, which also include Bowie State and Coppin State universiti­es, infrastruc­ture funds are spread across three main areas: deferred maintenanc­e, additions and energy-saving projects.

Deferred maintenanc­e, which refers to a backlog of repairs put off due to budget limitation­s, is what Evans calls “the cancer of higher education.” The evergrowin­g list ranges from replacing burst pipes and restoring the damage they caused to updating air quality systems.

Some of Maryland’s HBCUS are working to improve sustainabi­lity and reduce their carbon footprints, which involves updating antiquated structures. For example, Morgan State replaced the lighting in its football stadium with a more eco-friendly alternativ­e to save on energy expenses.

UMES’ new pharmacy building and Morgan State’s Calvin and Tina Tyler Hall, the student services building, both have earned Gold LEED certificat­ions.

New buildings, however, aren’t always a simple solution. UMES has land available for constructi­on, but Morgan State does not. To build something new, Morgan has to either demolish buildings or acquire more land, a difficult feat in a historic city like Baltimore. Morgan State is in the process of acquiring the old Lake Clifton school campus in East Baltimore to convert it into a satellite campus. The project could take 20 years to complete.

Even students who do get residence hall rooms face issues with the age of the buildings. When Glover lived on Morgan State’s campus her first year, she had to buy mouse traps to fight an infestatio­n.

When there isn’t enough space to house students, the universiti­es rely on area partnershi­ps. Anderson said that when the pandemic first hit and she needed solo rooms, the university worked with leasing offices to get students into apartments, though such agreements have since come to an end.

This year is not the first time Morgan State has faced student enrollment outpacing housing availabili­ty. In 2004, the university converted dorm lounge areas into bedrooms. In 2005 and 2006, students arrived on campus to discover they didn’t have housing. Some were placed in hotels, but others had to stay with upperclass­men and relatives or even sleep in their cars, the Baltimore Sun has reported.

Morgan State continues to house students at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, although the number of students staying there dropped this semester to 180.

The location came with its own set of issues for Glover. Due to miscommuni­cation between school offices, Glover was told she was at risk of losing her room at the hotel at one point, she said. Glover also said the hotel offered no laundry facilities and had minimal security and food options.

“I feel completely LET DOWN by all of your department­s and faculty,” Glover wrote Aug. 29 in an email to Morgan State President David Wilson. “I want to feel better about my HBCU, and that starts with the top administra­tion hearing our concerns and working to fix them. I NEED IMPROVEMEN­T. WE NEED IMPROVEMEN­T.”

Wilson confirmed to the Sun that he received the email and met with Glover.

For the spring semester, Glover leased an apartment. She said she still likes the school and hands-on nature of Wilson. Glover said she enjoys her classes and where they’re housed, though she hasn’t really been inside the older classrooms.

“Morgan, they have a lot of work to do,” Glover said. “But they’ve come very far.”

Anderson said the students she meets with at UMES all say they want better, modern buildings, an issue that comes only second to food quality. She said she’s trying to deliver, but that involves finding the time and the money to do so.

“It makes for a balancing act for us,” she said.

 ?? Katherine Frey/the Washington Post ?? The brand-new Tyler Hall reflects a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore in February. Still, at Morgan State, some classrooms can be too hot or cold, leading to distractio­n or classes being moved.
Katherine Frey/the Washington Post The brand-new Tyler Hall reflects a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore in February. Still, at Morgan State, some classrooms can be too hot or cold, leading to distractio­n or classes being moved.

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