Maryland Higher Education Commission Program Review Study
Until recently, the State of Maryland was a defendant in a 15-year long federal lawsuit, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), et. al (06–CV–02773–CCB). Originally filed in 2006, former and current students of Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which include Bowie State University, Coppin State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore within the University System of Maryland, and Morgan State University, alleged that Maryland, through ongoing policies and practices within the State’s system of higher education, violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ultimately found that the State violated federal law by failing to eliminate a traceable de jure era policy of unnecessary program duplication that exacerbated the racial identifiability of the HBCUs. The court cited as an example of unnecessary duplication MHEC’s decision to approve in 2005 a joint MBA program between two institutions, despite the objections of one of the HBCUs.
During the 2021 legislative session, the General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed, House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 (Chapter Laws 41 and 42, respectively), for the purpose of settling the lawsuit and remedying areas of concern relating to MHEC’s academic program review processes. Consequently, the lawsuit finally settled in May 2021 and the federal court found the State to have cured any policy of unnecessary program duplication. The legislation required, among other things, that the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) hire a consultant to study MHEC’s capacity and capability to carry out existing and new policies and practices for academic program review of the State’s institutions of higher education. MHEC is required by State law to review, evaluate, and approve the institutions’ proposals for the creation of new programs or substantial modifications to existing programs. Under certain circumstances, an institution may object to another institution’s proposal, which triggers additional review by MHEC. To this end, DLS, by proxy of the consultant, is required to specifically study MHEC’s academic review policies and practices to:
- evaluate, streamline, improve, and make recommendations on MHEC’s policies and practices with respect to academic program review;
- enhance the economic competitiveness of the State by ensuring responsiveness of institutions of higher education to market demand; and
- effectively support the State’s workforce development requirements.
On September 27, 2021, DLS issued a request for proposal seeking a contractor to perform the study. The department is pleased to announce that the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems has been awarded the contract; its review is currently ongoing and expected to conclude in September 2022. Updates will be posted as the study progresses.