Johns Hopkins University was in the news recently as the result of a $1.8-billion gift from one of its alumni, Michael Bloomberg. When I read about the gift, I immediately emailed my friend, Hopkins President Ron Daniels, and joked that perhaps Mr. Bloomberg should have invested at least $100 million of that in Morgan State University.
This is a gift of unprecedented size to an institution of higher education and follows a number of other generous contributions Mr. Bloomberg has made to his alma mater. The money is to be used for student financial aid with the objective of helping Hopkins attract more low-income students. I congratulate Mr. Bloomberg for his good intentions, but as president of an institution that has built its brand over 151 years by moving low-income and first-generation college students into the middle class, I must confess a little envy of Hopkins.
Hopkins is a neighbor of Morgan in Baltimore City. An internationally renowned university, it is considered to be one of our nation’s elite institutions by mainstream academia. Its mission, “knowledge for the world,” is broad, important and clearly neutral with regard to the income of its students. Morgan, on the other hand, is a Historically Black College and/or University (HBCU) designated as Maryland’s preeminent public urban research university. As such, we are focused primarily on the problems of the communities in which we are located and remain committed to our original purpose: providing the opportunities of higher education to those traditionally denied.
However, in seeking to expand its population of low-income students, Hopkins will face the same challenges in the area of student financial need and in the related area of academic readiness that Morgan and other HBCUs have studied and overcome for many years.
Grant aid at Morgan for the neediest students comes primarily in the form of Pell Grants: 57 percent of our undergraduates receive these federal funds, compared with 13 percent of undergraduates at Hopkins. Grant aid at Hopkins is primarily from institutional sources, such as Mr. Bloomberg’s funds. Institutional grants to Hopkins students average $37,115, vs. $5,045 per student at Morgan. Further, 75 percent of Morgan students receive federal need-based loans; 33 percent of students at Hopkins receive this type of loan.
Students’ scores on the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests are highly and positively correlated with the socioeconomic status of the students’ families and the availability of educational resources tied to family wealth. Thus, it’s no surprise that Morgan’s average math plus verbal SAT score is about 1,000, vs. nearly 1,500 for Hopkins, or that Morgan devotes much more attention to bringing many of its entering students to “college-ready status.”
I applaud the recent focus on low-income students by Hopkins and other institutions in the mainstream’s elite. But I’m also aware that their new efforts may compete with one another for the very small existing pool of minority students who meet their entrance requirements and who are already likely to be successful in getting degrees, rather than increasing the number of low-income minority students graduating from college. Institutions like Morgan, and Maryland’s three other HBCUs, know how to grow the pool of low-income students while producing top-shelf academic degree-holders. It’s our mission.
Last year, Morgan awarded bachelor’s degrees to 795 African-American students, which amounted to 77 percent of the production of the entire Ivy League. About a third of Morgan baccalaureate recipients enter graduate or professional school immediately upon graduation. And our university is a perennial leader in Maryland and the nation in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to black candidates in engineering as well as in the number of black graduates who continue their education to get doctorates in engineering and science.
At Morgan, we know that there is no shortage of incoming students with the qualifications to succeed if they have the requisite academic support. The challenge is to obtain enough financial resources to do the job that needs to be done well. Lack of financial resources not only prohibits some prospective students from even applying, it also forces a percentage of students to drop out after being accepted and enrolling.
Mr. Bloomberg, I welcome you to follow your latest contribution to Hopkins with a visit our campus, to see, firsthand, how an investor who wants to make a difference in this space can further strengthen institutions that have been overproducing low-income, first-generation college graduates for generations. Morgan, too, is open for your billions.
David Wilson is president of Morgan State University in Baltimore. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.