The victim was waiting for an Uber ride with two Maryland students about 3 a.m. when a man witnesses described as intoxicated and incoherent attacked him, university police Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said.
The stabbing occurred on Regents Drive in front of the Montgomery Hall dormitory, near a busy university shuttle stop and a gate that leads to the bars and restaurants on busy U.S. 1, police said.
Officers called to the scene arrested a male student who witnesses identified as the assailant and recovered a folding knife, police said. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he died, police said.
The attack was captured on surveillance video. No charges had been filed as of 9:30 p.m.
"Right now, what we know is this is an unprovoked incident," she said.
Police did not release the name of the suspect. Bowie State officials said the name of the victim was being withheld until Sunday at the request of his family.
The attack rattled students, university officials and parents who have descended on both campuses for graduation festivities.
"I'm shocked," said Rosey Ugo Edeh of Toronto, who was in town to see her daughter graduate from the University of Maryland. "This is a weekend of pure bliss and celebration for seniors."
Edeh was gathering bouquets of flowers and "Congrats, Grad!" balloons outside Memorial Chapel, just up the street from the crime scene. She said her daughter learned of the homicide during a family brunch Saturday morning.
As a parent, she called the tragedy "concerning and sad," and not just because her daughter had spent the night celebrating along a stretch of bars the victim and suspect also might have visited.
"It makes me wonder about the stress and anxiety," she said.
The presidents of both Maryland and Bowie State said moments of silence would be observed at commencement ceremonies.
"Words cannot express my deep anguish over this horrific tragedy," University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh said.
Both leaders offered condolences to the family of the victim and said counseling would be available for students.
"When tragedies happen, they can either bring communities together or tear them apart," Bowie State President Mickey L. Burnim said. "I sincerely hope that in the days to come, the Bowie State University community can find a way to come together, lift each other up, and remember the one who we've lost."
Gov. Larry Hogan said the state is working closely with the university as it investigates the stabbing.
"Our students deserve to feel safe, and violence on our campuses will not be tolerated," Hogan said in a statement.
The University of Maryland, College Park, the state's flagship university, is about 12 miles from Bowie State.
There were no signs of the crime along Regents Drive on Saturday afternoon, as students in black caps and gowns walked with their families between ceremonies for the individual departments and schools and the shops and restaurants of downtown College Park.
The university-wide commencement ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Xfinity Center. The arena is scheduled to host the Bowie State commencement Tuesday.
Clauton Kum, a junior who lives in Montgomery Hall, said students at Maryland are accustomed to receiving crime alert emails — but to learn of a homicide on campus was jarring. Kum was out on the town Friday night, and said the area was still lively with revelers at the time of the attack.
"You get a few robberies, but a stabbing?" Kum said as he stretched in the dorm courtyard after a workout. "This is a heavily populated area."
University of Maryland police are leading the investigation, Hoaas said. They asked anyone with information about the stabbing to contact the department at 301-405-3555.
According to FBI data, a homicide has not occurred on campus grounds in at least a decade.
It has been years since students have been involved in a homicide elsewhere in College Park.
In 2013, a student shot two of his roommates, killing one, before committing suicide at their off-campus house. In 2005, a student died in a fire that was later ruled to be arson, set at an off-campus house by a classmate. A student was stabbed to death at an off-campus party in 2003.