Dr. Charles Simmons, president of Sojourner Douglass College, waits to testify before the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

To increase donations to private, higher education institutions serving high needs areas, Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-Baltimore City) has introduced a bill to create a tax credit these donors could use to offset income and other Maryland taxes. The bill is supported by Sojourner-Douglass College and its president, Dr. Charles Simmons.

Testifying Feb. 4 before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on behalf of his bill, the ‘Higher Education Investment Tax Credit Program’ or Senate Bill 02 (SB02), McFadden called the proposed tax credit program “another tool in the toolbox to help Sojourner-Douglass get through a crisis.”

According to McFadden, Sojourner-Douglass is the only private, predominantly Black university in the state, serving almost exclusively a population of working adults striving to achieve a higher education degree and further their career prospects. “This is an opportunity for us to help Sojourner-Douglass College continue its mission,” said McFadden.

SB02 would authorize the Maryland Higher Education Commission to set aside up to $20 million annually in available tax credits for projects in what are known as priority funding areas (which includes Baltimore City) and benefiting persons making below the area median income as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Private institutions of higher education that are attempting to raise funds for qualifying projects would then compete for the credits through an application process.

If the Commission approves an institution’s application for credits, that institution could then distribute those credits to donors making a donation of money, goods, or real property worth at least $25,000. The credit granted to a donor could not exceed 50 percent of the donation.

Simmons also testified before the Budget and Taxation Committee on behalf of SB02, saying it would have “a significantly, positive impact,” on the school and arguing that the cost of the tax credit program would yield significant returns. “This is not a drain on the state’s revenue, it contributes to the revenue,” said Simmons. “When we look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the multiplier effect, Sojourner-Douglass College adds about an $85 million economic impact on the region.”

Sojourner-Douglass is currently awaiting a decision by an appeals board of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which stripped the school of its accreditation, effective June 30, 2015, last November. due to an approximately $5 million budget deficit. An appeals hearing was held on Feb. 2, and a decision is expected around Feb. 24. Simmons, who notes that similarly situated traditionally White institutions have not seen their accreditation revoked, believes Sojourner-Douglass will prevail in its fight.

“We think our cause is right, we’re serving our community,” said Simmons.

In the meantime, Simmons continues to work to find ways to increase support for his institution, and he says there is support in the business community to help drive donations to the college if the tax credit program passes the General Assembly and is signed into law.

“There are a number of things that we need that are available in that bill, that would help Sojourner,” said Simmons.