Amid record enrollment this year, Morgan State University is working to expand its student housing, upgrade academic buildings, and collaborate with its neighbors to enhance the local community.
Morgan State University President David K. Wilson said his institution is on the rise and it’s on the precipice of even more significant growth.
“Morgan is now flying and we do not want our wings clipped,” Wilson said. “We are actually in a position where this institution is ready to grow additional wings.”
The university enrolled about 2,400 students in its freshman class this fall, fueled in part by an increase in out-of-state students, and Morgan saw total enrollment climb to an all-time high of 9,660.
Morgan also tied with Tougaloo College in Mississippi as the 12th best historically Black college and university (HBCU) in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2022-2023 rankings.
“I feel the university continues to set us up for success,” said Darren Cooper, a screenwriting and animation major at Morgan. “And if we don’t have it, it’s on the way. Morgan is making an obvious effort to be the best of the best, not just among HBCUs but universities in general, and it’s clear we are well on our way.”
Over the past four years, Morgan has added new academic degree programs, some of which include transportation systems engineering, sustainable urban environmental engineering, mechatronics engineering, coastal science & policy, cloud computing, interior design, and secure embedded systems engineering..
“Students want opportunities to get degrees in areas where they understand the future of work,” Wilson said. “And we have been determined to mount new academic degree programs that speak to the work of the future.”
Large philanthropic gifts over the past couple years have helped fund scholarships, support research, and reinforce other initiatives at Morgan.
Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in December 2020 gifted the university $40 million, which is the largest single private donation in Morgan’s history. That gift is helping advance research efforts and seed an endowment fund for the university’s strategic initiatives.
The Maryland Department of Commerce in October 2022 approved $1 million for Morgan’s new endowed chair for the Center for Urban Health Equity, which Scott matched with a donation of the same amount.
And in February 2021, Morgan alumnus Calvin E. Tyler Jr. and his wife Tina donated $20 million, the largest private donation by an alum in the university’s history. The Tylers’ donation went to support an endowed fund to provide full-tuition, need-based scholarships.
As Morgan attracts a growing student body, the university is investing in additional student housing.
This fall, students moved into the new, 670-bed Thurgood Marshall Residence Hall. The 10-story building also includes areas for fitness, studying, lounging, laundry and more.
“The addition of a new apartment-type housing facility at Morgan is long overdue,” Morgan’s Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin Banks said in a statement. “This new construction will go a long way in helping us address the growing demand for on-campus housing for our students and providing contemporary amenities that will enhance the living-learning experience.”
The old Thurgood Marshall Apartments will be demolished and converted into green space. The university then plans to build a 604-bed residential tower, featuring a game room, business incubator, and other spaces.
In the meantime, Morgan has been housing 440 students at the Lord Baltimore Hotel for the fall semester. The Maryland Board of Public Works will vote this week on whether to extend its contract with the hotel to continue housing students there for the spring semester.
“To witness Morgan’s growth year after year is mind-blowing. Driving through campus I hardly recognize it now,” said Morgan State alumna Stacey Walsh. “But I religiously give back to my alma mater and it’s extremely rewarding to feel like my donations are clearly being utilized. I’m no MacKenzie Scott, but I do what I can in hopes that the next generation of Morganites have the resources to be successful.”
Morgan is planning to open the Maryland College of Osteopathic Medicine, which will be the first medical school at an HCBU in 45 years, and the only osteopathic medical school at an HBCU. With the new school, Morgan will be the only university in the Mid-Atlantic region to offer a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program.
Morgan is also building a new science facility, equipped with modern classrooms and lab rooms. The design is expected to be completed by spring 2024, with the facility anticipated to open in fall 2027.
MSU has partnered with the nation’s largest Black-owned architecture firm, Moody Nolan, Inc., to complete the project. Moody Nolan has worked with 30 HBCUs and most recently completed Morgan’s new student housing, Thurgood Marshall Apartments.
“For our $171 million health and human services project that will be complete in 2024 we brought the legislators here [to campus] and showed them the conditions in which many of our faculty and staff were working,” Wilson said. “We put in the hard work to convince them that an investment of this institution was going to lead to exactly what you’re seeing today, which is this type of momentum. And then of course they proposed a $250 million new science building that took a lot of effort on the part of our team. Lot of time in Annapolis, a lot of time with two governors. But it was Governor Hogan’s administration that has signed off on it.”
One of Morgan’s largest future initiatives is the purchase of former Lake Clifton High School property to develop a new satellite campus that would include academic buildings, athletic fields, a wellness center, housing, a convocation center and more.
The $200 million project will take up to 20 years to complete, which includes the 59 acres that is the high school, the historic Valve House building, and another 14 acres of property.
“This is a wonderful development for our City,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement. “This development will create new jobs, generate much-needed tax revenue, breathe new life into the surrounding communities and provide one of our region’s strongest institutions space to grow.”
A 2018 Morgan State University study revealed the university is making a $990 million annual financial impact on Maryland and a $574 million impact on Baltimore City, and that it employs 6,500 across the state.
The university has also been working with its neighbors to restore the local community, including the nearby Northwood Commons shopping center.
In 2018, leases were approved to move forward with Northwood Commons, a plaza sitting adjacent to Morgan’s campus, equipped with a Lidl grocery store, Barnes & Noble college bookstore with a Starbucks, Chipotle, IHOP, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and more.
But some community members were unsure about the construction plans at first.
According to university officials, in 1963 more than 415 students were arrested during a peaceful protest to desegregate a theater at the plaza, called Northwood Shopping Center at the time.
In recent years, many neighbors expressed hesitation about plans for the shopping center, which they still viewed with pain due to the historic inequity and racial discrimination that took place there.
There were so many hands that had to come together at the right time in order for that project to materialize,” Wilson said. That included “working with the community, making sure the community’s voice played a very dominant role in what shops would be there, and making sure that the developer was culturally competent and understood the history and approached the project with care.”
But the redevelopment of Northwood Commons has brought welcome changes for Northwood resident Kia Thornton.
“This shopping center has been like a ghost town, with nothing but this McDonald’s for a long time,” Thornton said. “So I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Morgan has stepped in to help build up this community.
Thornton said the redevelopment of Northwood Commons has enhanced the area’s appearance and improved access to fresh food.
“This place has been a food desert for decades, but now that we have Lidl I have better access to what my family needs,” Thornton said. “Not to mention it just looks better. This place was such an eyesore before. I can’t wait for the entire shopping center to come together.”
As a result of many individuals’ contributions, the Morgan State campus and surrounding areas are experiencing “this renaissance and this transformation,” Wilson said.
“We are building a sustainable university where, when David Wilson leaves the presidency, the Morgan momentum does not leave. It will continue down a path of unbelievable transformation. And in order for that to happen, everybody that’s a part of the community must feel that they are a part of it now, and therefore they will always be a part of that.”