Morgan State University, the largest of Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities, is thriving. The writing is strong. There is record external and state funding. The institutional focus is on achieving Research One status. Innovative programming continues to grow and the student body is more diverse than ever.
A long-running lawsuit between Maryland’s HBCUs and the state was finally settled, and Morgan State received its first $15.1 million from those funds on July 1, 2022. Morgan State President Dr. David K. Wilson says the money funds existing and new programs.
“We’re looking around the country, talking to potential employers to get a sense of the future of work and the future of work, to launch new academic degree programs that, when our graduates graduate, will be in high demand and earn competitive salaries,” says Wilson. “We’re trying to break down barriers.”
Morgan State is currently number one in the United States in producing black electrical and civil engineers, Wilson notes. The university has an excellent reputation in science and continues to innovate. This requires a deliberate effort to maintain.
Dr. Tiffany Beth Mfume, associate vice president for student success and retention, says her office is involved from the time a student is accepted to the university until they graduate. Once accepted, someone from the office oversees the transition process—orientation, counseling, financial clearance and registration before the student’s first semester, and support during the first year.
“Our students have a professional advisor on my team who works with them until they complete 24 credits with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 and a declared major,” says Mfume, herself a Morgan State graduate. “At that time, they transition to either a professional counselor at their school or major or mostly faculty counseling.”
Before earning 24 credits, students must discuss all decisions with an advisor, including withdrawing from a class, changing majors, or registering. Once students transition out of this first-year format, the Office of Success and Retention continues to work with them through graduation.
“We have an early warning system where the faculty informs us at least twice during the semester if students are going or not, if they are behind on assignments or if their quizzes or tests are not up to par, or if they are even getting positive feedback,” says Mfume. “We monitor and track all of these faculty alerts.”
If a student is not meeting certain milestones, someone from Mfume’s office will reach out to them and help arrange tutoring or other services. There is a second-year practicum in which students are strongly encouraged to engage in high-impact practice, such as research with faculty or service learning, which increases persistence. Mfume personally writes to any student who attempts to cancel all classes or withdraw from the university. “That was the most informative change we made,” he says. “Students know we care about not letting them leave, and we see the reasons why students leave. Then I can respond to that.”
According to President Wilson, students continue to see examples of perseverance on campus. He says the university wants speakers whose life stories are compelling, inspiring and motivating to propel the graduates forward. Wes Moore, then-governor-elect of Maryland, delivered the keynote address at Morgan State’s fall commencement ceremony.
“Wes Moore has lived a life of struggle, failure, persistence and reaching the highest level,” says Wilson. “Becoming the first African-American governor in Maryland history, the third African-American governor in U.S. history … means a lot to our graduating students, to their families and to those who watch history live.
Morgan State also has an alumni mentoring program. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a special breakfast for graduates with freshmen during homecoming weekend, and she’s glad that in-person events have resumed.
“We’ve laid a really solid foundation that this university is like no other,” notes Mfume. “That’s Morgan’s legacy.
A celebration of diversity
“Every serious higher education institution in the country should be paying attention to great diversity on their campuses — among faculty, staff, and students,” says Wilson. “We’re trying to create an environment where students understand they’re in a living lab, and this lab is one where there are so many different cultures, so many different histories… We want you to grow in your understanding of others.”
Natasha A. Lewis-Williams, executive director of the University Student Center and Office of Student Life and Development, says much of her work focuses on celebrating diversity and inclusion. Her office encourages students to start student organizations, especially students who want more representation of their background or identity.
“If we don’t have a student group, we welcome you to create one,” says Lewis-Williams, who received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Morgan State. “Since we opened these doors, we’ve had an overwhelming response from a variety of cultural organizations that have helped our students feel at home here.”
Current student groups include organizations for African students, Caribbean students, Latin American students, One Trybe (international students), and Sigma Lambda Gamma, a multicultural sorority. Disabled the Label provides a safe space for students with a variety of disabilities.
“Disabled the Label aims to remove the stigma of disability,” explains Lewis-Williams. “They have done so many events and programs that encourage students with disabilities to participate in leadership development programs. A number of people who are part of Disabled the Label have served in our SGA (Student Government Association) and have done an amazing job. Their goal is to provide support and mentorship. Their core values are students first, community engagement, freedom of speech and choice.”
SOUL (Students Open to Unique Love) is Morgan State’s official gay, straight, bisexual, fluid, transgender, queer, and questioning alliance that has grown steadily over the years. As a student club, it produces its own events, but also collaborates with the University Student Center on events such as an alternative student ball.
“Right now, through our office, we’re using social media as a platform to give a voice to some students who feel like they don’t have one,” says Lewis-Williams.
The center plans programs for Hispanic Heritage Month, All Heritage Month and an International Food Festival. There is also programming for pressing issues such as voting.
“We try to connect in different ways,” he says. “We are a very diverse campus. We try to expose our students to new things. Our main core value at the university is respect.’
To look forward to
Dr. Hongtao Yu, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, is focused on getting Morgan State University Carnegie Classification Research One status. Yu, a research chemist, is committed to promoting diversity in higher education and serving underrepresented populations, particularly in the sciences.
“There are several factors [to R 1 status]” says Yu. “One of them is graduates of doctoral studies. Second is research funding, then research staff.” There are currently 23 doctoral programs. “We have several research centers at the university…dealing with issues that are important to people in Maryland and also specific to people in the city of Baltimore,” continues Yu. “We want to bring researchers together to do research in these areas.”
In addition to centers conducting research relevant to the state and city, Morgan State has other centers that address pressing issues such as civil rights in education, data analysis and sports game research, global studies and international education, and the study of race and culture in sports.
In November, Morgan State submitted a proposal for the U.S. Air Force’s planned University Research Center (UARC) to study tactical autonomy. “We have the staff we need to manage the UARC, should it be granted,” says Yu. “We have a vision to work with other HBCUs and not only bring Morgan to where we need to be, but we would like to work with other HBCUs as well.” In the past two years, Morgan State has introduced more than 25 new degrees. Among them are 18 degree programs – eight bachelor’s, five master’s and five doctoral – that are part of Morgan Completes You, an initiative for traditional and non-traditional undergraduate and graduate students who have excellent potential to complete their degrees but need flexibility, opportunity and access to a variety of completion options through the new university college of interdisciplinary and follow-up studies.
Wilson says it’s an effort to go after some of the nearly 40 million adults in the U.S. with some college and no degree. $1.5 million of the $15.1 million was allocated to start a new college. He expects 1,000 to 2,000 students to study online with Morgan Completes You over the next three years.
There are also new programs that deal with contemporary issues. “We have worked with some companies, including government entities, on workforce development,” says Yu. One of the new programs is cloud computing. The university is about to launch a coastal climate science and policy program. “We are constantly looking at what programs we can bring to the company. … Access will continue to be our trademark.”