What one HBCU credits for record surge in applications

Morgan State University is enjoying the riches of a bigger prospective student pool this year.
By: | May 3, 2021
Photo courtesy of Morgan State University

It has been a bittersweet past year for even the most successful higher education research institutions, tempered by the yearlong struggles of remote academic work and operations during the pandemic.

But there have been bright spots, including a few recently at Morgan State University in Baltimore. The largest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) received two transformative gifts from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and Calvin and Tina Tyler totaling $60 million and had millions of dollars in debt eliminated by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

That was buoyed by news that President David Wilson delivered last month: because of robust testing and vaccination, campus will be fully reopen this fall.

All of that positive press and its reputation has sparked renewed interest in the institution from prospective students. On Monday, the university said it had received 14,600 undergraduate applications for 2021-22, shattering 2019 totals by more than 58%. It also has pulled in 1,200 housing applications, up more than 50% from 2019. A new housing facility is set come in 2024.

“We have faced challenges during the pandemic and have seen some of our natural growth stifled as a result, however, what these record numbers of applications are revealing is that educational attainment is still very important to a great number of people and that there is a tremendous appetite to receive that education at Morgan,” Wilson said. “What we’ve put in place here at the university, in terms of programs and opportunities, is unique and attractive to both traditional and nontraditional students. We look forward to capitalizing on this monumental interest and building for the future.”

‘A good problem to have’

While some institutions are struggling to hit application targets, Morgan State is one of those in the upper tier enjoying a boon from an overall increase in students applying to a variety of institutions. Though enrollment numbers continue to trend downward, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there is hope that the fall will bring better results. At Morgan State, that likely won’t be an issue.

“Although we do not expect the majority of these prospective students to enroll, as of today more than 1,500 new students have paid their enrollment deposit,” said Kara Turner, vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Success at Morgan State. “Even though National College Decision Day has passed, we are continuing to admit students.”

Because of those 14,000-plus applications, Morgan State could eclipse its typical number of new enrollees (1,600-1,800). It also has seen a rise in graduate applications, with more than 1,000 this year. That upsurge mirrors a nationwide trend as older students have helped boost otherwise tepid enrollments.

So, what led to the resurgence in application this year at Morgan State? The university identified several reasons for the increases, including:

  • The aforementioned blitz of student applications, helped by the ability to submit them to many institutions through Common App.
  • The “high visibility of HBCUs right now, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a heightened national attention on diversity, equity and inclusion.”
  • A distinct focus on marketing, especially in terms of outlining its financial aid packages
  • The high-profile donations that have poured in over the past several months to HBCUS as well as the $577 million lawsuit won by HBCUs over underfunding that occurred through the years in the state of Maryland.
  • Going test-optional for the spring and fall of 2021. Morgan State plans to review this policy in the future.
  • Streamlining applications for students by eliminating fees, hosting virtual tours and accepting unofficial transcripts.

“Although we were already seeing incremental increases in applications annually and anticipated some additional level of growth due to national trends, what we are seeing in actuality was somewhat unexpected, but this is a good problem to have,” Turner said.