Why Coppin and Morgan Shouldn't Merge

July 16, 1991|By CALVIN W. BURNETT

As part of the state plan for postsecondary education, Higher Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery has recommended that the Maryland Higher Education Commission study the consolidation of Morgan State University and Coppin State College in order, presumably, to strengthen their ability to address urban problems. We are strongly opposed to this recommendation, which apparently is based on the assumptions that historically black institutions are essentially alike because they serve primarily the African American community and that that community is homogeneous in its educational needs.

These assumptions could not be further from reality: Coppin State College and Morgan State University are two very different institutions with different and complimentary roles and missions and teaching, research and public-service functions.

Indeed, the Higher Education Commission itself has already accepted both Coppin's mission statement defining its role as an urban college within the state university system and Morgan's statement of its role as an independent university. Consolidating the two would eliminate the mission of Coppin as college, eliminating a significant component in the mix of educational institutions and services now provided to the citizens of Maryland in general and of Baltimore and the inner city in particular.

As an historically black institution, Coppin does serve a role similar to that served by Morgan and other historically black institutions. Studies show that African Americans who begin their collegiate education at historically black institutions tend to succeed at higher rates than do those who go directly to white institutions, where they frequently get lost academically, socially and psychologically. Those who begin at black institutions tend to do better when they move on to white institutions as part of dual-degree, graduate or professional-school programs.

There are four historically black institutions in Maryland. Each enjoys a different status and serves a unique mission: Bowie as a comprehensive regional university, Coppin as an urban college, Morgan as an independent urban university and Maryland Eastern Shore as a land-grant institution. Unfortunately, it appears from the the plan that there is little awareness of these distinctions or knowledge of Coppin State's role. This is dramatically reflected in the assertion that Coppin is ''a historically black teachers' college.''

Coppin shifted from a teachers college to an arts and sciences institution in 1962, and now less than 15 percent of its 2,300 students are enrolled in the teacher-education program. Perhaps some knowledge of who we are, what we do and how we are connected to our community will be helpful in understanding our objection to what we consider a very misguided recommendation.

Coppin State has a rich history extending over a 91-year existence -- from its beginning as a one-year training program in January 1900 through its development into a two-year Normal Department at Douglass High School in 1902; a separate Normal Department with its own principal in 1909; the Fannie Jackson Coppin Normal School in 1926; Coppin Teachers College in 1930; Coppin State Teachers College in 1950; the four-year liberal arts and teacher-education college under the Board of Trustees of State Colleges in 1962; as a comprehensive college in 1970 and as Coppin State College of the University of Maryland System in 1988.

The record will clearly show that Coppin has made an outstanding contribution to Baltimore and to Maryland through programs in such liberal-arts areas as English, history, mathematics and psychology; in professional-degree programs such as criminal justice, nursing, adaptive physical education, computer science, teacher education and adult education.

From these and other programs, our graduates -- many from very humble backgrounds -- are accepted into some of the finest graduate and professional schools in the country. On the a value-added measure, no other senior college in Maryland can ++ compare with the output of Coppin State.

Coppin is a college, a channel by which our students can either move directly into careers which require only the bachelor's degree for entry, or advance to further study at the graduate or professional-school level. Given the scope of programs across the University of Maryland system, Coppin can leverage even more opportunities for its students by working with the system's other member institutions.

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