Maryland Legislature Introduces Bill Requiring Guaranteed Admission for Colleges and Universities

Maryland is considering the possibility of joining other states in guaranteeing admission to certain first-year students at its public colleges and universities. Proposed legislation, Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s), would require institutions to adopt an admission policy that accepts Maryland high school students in the top 10% of their class, regardless of whether they attend a public or private school.

This legislation would require 10 “constituent” higher education institutions in the University System of Maryland to accept these high-achieving students. These institutions include the University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland Eastern Shore; University of Maryland Global Campus; Bowie State University; Coppin State University; Frostburg State University; Salisbury University; Towson University; and the University of Baltimore. In addition, two public schools outside the system, Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, would also be required to admit these students.

A picture of the front entrance of Bowie State University’s campus in Prince George’s County on Nov. 22, 2023. (William J. Ford)

This bill comes in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that deemed affirmative action in college admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill unconstitutional. The decision effectively eliminated the consideration of race in the selection process for higher education.

“That made me concerned because other states that have gone to a race-neutral policy for selective schools immediately saw a drop in diversity of their student body…” Augustine said in an interview Thursday. “I want to make sure that our higher education schools are filled with the talented students from across the state that look like our state.”

Currently, there is no specific state law focused on admission standards for institutions, according to the bill’s fiscal note. However, schools are not permitted to discriminate against prospective students based on race, sexual orientation, religion, or other characteristics.

This bill is modeled after a law in Texas that has been in effect for over 20 years.

Other states, including Virginia, have recently implemented guaranteed admission programs in an effort to diversify their student bodies and counter declining enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), enrollment in the state’s colleges and universities decreased from 409,075 students in 2012 to nearly 369,200 in the fall of 2021.

Bob Spieldenner, a spokesman for SCHEV, stated in an interview Thursday that the organization does not track the number of schools offering guaranteed enrollment, as it is up to each school to decide whether to participate in such a program.

During a recent bill hearing, Clarence Crawford, the President of the state Board of Education, spoke in support of the legislation, acknowledging that not every high school reports class rank but stating that the bill would still help increase student diversity in higher education.

“The board is encouraged by the steps taken in SB 5 because it emphasizes and signals the importance of GPA [grade point average], grades, and student performance throughout high school,” Crawford said. “We like the focus on academics. We like the focus on giving parents, students clear indicators early on that student performance is important and there are positive outcomes for achieving the best possible grades.”

Although the University of Maryland College Park supports a diverse student population, officials from the institution disagree with the bill. James B. Massey Jr., the director of undergraduate admissions, stated that the legislation would eliminate the school’s holistic approach to admissions, which considers factors such as academic performance, geographic origin, community service, and special achievements.

“We admit students that have not only excelled in the classroom, but students that have gone far beyond that. We believe that merit is not a singularly defined measure to merit our students,” Massey said.

Andy Clark, the assistant vice chancellor for government relations with the University System of Maryland, wrote a letter to the committee expressing concerns about the bill. He noted that while 12 states have guaranteed admission programs, the results in terms of enrollment impact and demographic composition vary. Clark also highlighted the need for more time to understand the potential impacts of the legislation if it is approved.

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