Morgan State President Makes Plans To Elevate University Through Expansion

Morgan State University is making big changes, according to the Baltimore Business Journal

A little over two miles from the historically-Black college lies an abandoned building, once known as Lake Clifton Eastern High School. 59-acres-long and briefly thought to be slowly sinking into its lake, the school closed its doors for good in 2003 following a history of disciplinary issues, high dropout rates, and low attendance, according to the Baltimore Sun. Now, the defunct school is projected to become a new and revitalized extension of Morgan State University if the president of the university has his way, the Baltimore Business Journal reports. 

David Wilson wants to build Morgan State into one of the nation’s leading universities, rivaling even the Ivy League. His first step to achieving this goal? Expanding the campus to encompass the Lake Clifton school.

Though it has been closed for 20 years, Wilson sees more to the broken-down building and overgrown shrubbery than others. He has set his eyes on the former high school as the site of a new technology and research park. 

“Our university is raising its hand and saying this is our time for Morgan to bellow across the state and nation that ‘This is how a public anchor institution can lead to a transformation of our city,’ ” Wilson told the journal. 

Wilson has set off on a seven-year venture to improve the university, with goals to increase student enrollment, multiply its endowment, and create a large body of research for the institution. This growth comes at a steep cost but the university is ready. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that Morgan State aims to raise $1.5 billion to $2 billion of capital investment and use a future private fundraising campaign to pay for these developments. $262 million is set to renovate Lake Clifton Eastern High School.

Plans for development has been in motion for years, with the university witnessing a substantial increase in enrollment for over the last decade—7,226 students to 9,100 between 2009 and 2022. This spike is the result of Morgan State’s concentrated effort to drive up student interest. Over the years, the university has implemented shopping centers, academic buildings, and new apartments all throughout North Baltimore, an approach borrowed from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League. 

Wilson shared with the journal that he researched the University of Pennsylvania’s history, where he discovered that the school led significant neighborhood developments, contributing to its growth. Wilson realized that, in order for Morgan State to witness similar growth, its surrounding neighborhoods needed to advance with it. 

His approach differs in certain areas. Ivy League universities boast low acceptance rates and high costs, two factors that make them so unattainable. Wilson, however, wants to solidify Morgan State’s reputation and prestige through research, not exclusion. 

“Prestige is not about closing the door of opportunity and Xeroxing privilege,” Wilson said to the Baltimore Business Journal. “It’s not about how many students you keep out, and I think American higher education, for the most part, has gotten that wrong.” 

Several new research centers have arose at Morgan State in recent years along with new federal and private contracts, according to the outlet. The university received around $42 million in research awards during the first half of fiscal year 2023. This number is more than what the school earned in 2021 entirely. These new research initiatives have also led to an influx of patents and Morgan-driven companies, a drastic change for the university. It did not file a single patent for professorial research between 1867, the year the school was founded, and 2010, according to the Vice President of Research and Economic Development, Willie May. 

“Without research, Morgan is just a training school like a two-year program,” said Tyrone Taborn, a former Morgan board of regents member told the Journal. “As a world-class research institute, you attract funding from many federal agencies. You’re able to have master’s and Ph.D. programs so you’re creating more thought leaders. You can attract better faculty, and great faculty attracts great students.”

Another aspect of Wilson’s mission that differs from other universities is how he plans to go about this expansion. The research park will consist of 20 acres while the remaining land will reserved for other satellite uses. However, any further plans for expansion will include buying out vacant lots so that people and homes are not displaced. This method is to avoid gentrification, a recurring issue that has plagued many other universities in their quest for growth and disproportionately impacts Black neighborhoods. In the future, Morgan State also wants to dedicate research projects to addressing disparities within Baltimore and increasing economic opportunity. 

Though former presidents of the university have tried and failed to complete what Wilson has in mind, he has overcome one obstacle that has hindered previous efforts. State funding posed a large problem in the years before Wilson became president. However, since becoming president, Maryland has poured into HBCUs.

Wilson wants to see Morgan State grow in stature and influence while maintaining the integrity of what makes the university so special. Though many universities have sought to expand their campuses, Wilson’s approach involves actively improving the lives of neighboring residents and remaining accessible.

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