Pamela D'Angelo

Nannette Smith was just a kid when she broke the color barrier at a previously all-white elementary school in Baltimore. And that experience led her to Howard University and life as an activist in what then was the nascent civil rights movement.

“I desegregated the schools in Baltimore when I was in the fourth grade, nine years old,” she said. “And when I finished high school my dad wanted me to apply to Radcliffe and I said, “No. I do not want to go to another predominantly white school. I'm not going, I'm not going to apply and you can't make me.”

Public universities that serve low income students have struggled for years with low graduation rates.  Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, including those in Maryland, face this problem especially acutely.

Three Coppin State University students, all in their mid-twenties, sit in their student union talking about the challenges of working toward a bachelor’s degree. 

"My name is William Lessane. I am 27 years old. Technically at Coppin I’m a sophomore but right on the cusp of being a junior. I am from Baltimore City, Park Heights - West Baltimore area. To be honest with you, I’ve been in college for 10 years on and off. I’ve struggled in trying to achieve the associate’s degree. Now, I’m finding new struggles in trying to achieve the bachelor’s degree."