Morgan President Champions the Changing Face of HBCUs on NPR

pres_wilson2According to a new report, not only are historically black colleges and universities attracting more Asian and Latino students than ever before, but their graduation and retention rates are also on the rise.

Host Michel Martin discussed that and other breakthroughs with the report’s author, Dr. Marybeth Gasman, and Morgan State University’s President, David Wilson on National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” on May 13.

“This report asserts the value of our institutions to the competitiveness of America,” said Dr. Wilson.

The study, The Changing Faces of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, outlines areas of growth at HBCUs. These include an increase in graduation rates, the percentage of non-black students of color attending HBCUs, as well as the addition of study abroad and foreign language programs.

“Our students must be prepared today, as Prof. Gasman indicated, to be globally competitive and to understand other histories and other cultures, and we feel that our campuses are changing to reflect that.”

Martin pointed out a few statistics during the show as well. Hispanics and Latino enrollment at HBCUs shot up by 123 percent since 1980.  Asian enrollment subsequently increased by 60 percent.

Wilson credited these increases to the rigor of programs and experiences that can be tapped into at Morgan. There are only two schools of architecture at public institutions in the state of Maryland. At Morgan, he said, 20 percent of students in the School of Architecture are white, and in one program, landscape architecture, 84 percent of the students are white.

Gasman, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, noted that although an increase is being seen, graduation rates are still lower than those of traditionally white institutions.

The national average graduation rate is 55 percent. The average graduation rate for HBCUs is 30 percent. At Morgan, Wilson said, that figure—which measures how many high school students start the freshman year and complete their degrees within six years—is about 32 percent.

On the show, Wilson said that the main reason why retention and graduation rates at Morgan are so low is due to a lack of financial aid. After taking a look at the records of students from 2010 to 2011, he concluded that “about a hundred of them had not come back because they did not have the financial means.”

In an interview at the WEAA studios following the show, he said thata at Morgan 56 percent of students receive Pell Grants, with 36 percent of them receiving the maximum of $5, 500 per year. The cost of a year at Morgan, including room and board, is about $17,000. “If you only have $5, 500, then you are left with a $12,000 balance,” he said, adding: “At some point, you are up against the wall and, sadly, some of our students decide to stop out and work and then come back later.”

Wilson discussed his plans to improve retention and to move Morgan’s graduation rate upward of 50 percent by 2021.

By continuing to advocate for additional funding for Morgan, building bridges with other educational institutions across the world, and installing programs that will further those ties, Morgan will soon be able to compete with the likes of students at predominantly white institutions.

“We don’t have the resources that we need to make sure that we are fulfilling our mission at Morgan fully. I don’t think any HBCU in the country can say that it does,” said Wilson.  However, “we are continuing to make a strong case to the state of MD to invest in our institutions.”

After a long hiatus, Michel Martin’s nationally-broadcast “Tell Me More” has returned to Morgan’s WEAA (88.9 FM). It can be heard weekdays at 11 a.m.

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