On Feb. 21, Provost and Dean of Faculty Michael Wick briefed students and faculty about the future of the DeSousa-Brent Scholars program (DB) in an attempt to be “transparent about the opportunities and threats facing the program.” Wick explained that though the program currently receives state funding through grants, this is conditional on three basic requirements, which if not met equate to a loss of funding. Wick emphasized the College’s unwavering dedication to keeping the program running, despite the potential of having to find supplementary sources of funding.
Wick explained that state of Maryland has been helping fund the DeSousa-Brent program since 2013, explaining that if the 2015 cohort of the program, meaning those graduating this year, meets the base requirements listed in the Maryland Senate bill of an 88% retention rate from the first-to-second year, a 79% retention rate for the first-third year, and a 70% four year graduation rate, the grant money will become permanent.
Wick expressed hesitance about being able to meet the last of the three requirements, though he stated that the 2015 cohort was “on track for a 71% four-year graduation rate,” saying that “if that happens we are good, but we need to prepare for the possibility of a different scenario.” As Wick articulated this is a “pivotal time for the program,” with its future uncertain in terms of funding, though he stressed the College’s commitment to continuing the program.
The DeSousa-Brent program was created in 2008, with the intention of nourishing “the academic and leadership potential of talented students from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education,” with their homepage stating that “Regardless of your race, gender, economic status, or background, a college education is within your reach.” The program draws inspiration and name from Mathias DeSousa, the first black man to vote as a landowner in Maryland, as well as from Margaret Brent, a woman who challenged the gender roles of her time, becoming a landowner with her sister, as well as appearing before the court, an action not typical of women during her time.
During his lecture, Wick hailed the program, repeatedly calling it “a wild, wild success,” explaining that he and his colleagues “don’t think a programs future should hinge on the small difference in percentage.” He began by welcoming students in Cole Cinema, stating that he wanted to address misconceptions about the program and its future, in an attempt to be transparent. He quickly articulated the fact that since funding was in jeopardy, the College had “put a pause button on the recruitment of the next class,” meaning new students were not being actively recruited for the program.
The working solution at this time, as explained by the Provost, is an expansion of the DeSousa-Brent cohort size in the coming years. By increasing the number of students accepted into the program, the College is able to bring in more revenue as more people will be paying tuition. This additional money will outweigh the cost needed to support each new student, allowing the program to sustain itself in the event that state funding is lost. Essentially, the more students paying money to have a place at the college, the more revenue generated that could be put towards the DeSousa Brent program.
Many students spoke out, voicing their concern that this decision had been hidden away from them, indicating a lack of transparency, something one DeSousa-Brent Scholar present argued was characteristic for this college. Multiple students explained how beneficial this program had been in helping them navigate the college experience, allowing them to succeed at a primarily white institution, or as a first-generation college student. Some highlighted the need-based textbook cost assistance, while others spoke of the impact having a mentor had on them, giving them someone to reach out to when they were stressed or felt alienated. One person advocated for the need to keep the same faculty and staff, asking “Will the people involved with the program be the same? Will the only change be the number of students in DB?,” to which Wick responded by reassuring students that “No one is being kicked out. They will be keeping their jobs.” Special mention was made of the Wellness Center, and the perceived lack of prioritization the college has for mental health resources, with one student explaining that this was particularly important for students of color.
Senior Ariel Keene, a member of the DeSousa-Brent Scholars program, found the meeting to be less than productive, explaining that she was “not particularly sure what the goal of the meeting was, considering DB’s were left with many unanswered questions.” Keene went on to say that she was not in agreement with the idea of institutionalizing the program, as she believes it will “change the underlying purpose of the program.” She made this point more clear by stating that “Michael Wick stressed that he was trying to recruit the biggest cohort that DB has ever seen, but he seemed to only care about the revenue it would bring the school. The purpose of DB is to better the academic and social success of underrepresented students on this campus; not make the school more money.” Keene also explained that she wanted to be regularly kept in the loop on big decisions like this.
Regardless of if the 2015 cohort makes the 70% four-year graduation rate, Wick drove home the College’s commitment to continuing the program, no matter what it takes, explaining that they will “internally re-allocate enough money to keep things going,” but that changes will need to be made. Wick ended by stating that “you don’t stop a wildly successful program, you grow it,” indicating that this is exactly what the College plans to do.