Bowie State University, Maryland’s oldest HBCU, seeing growth where other colleges are not

Most of Maryland’s public colleges have been seeing declines in enrollment in recent years. Between fall 2018 and fall 2021, the University System of Maryland saw a decline of more than 6%.

The exceptions are the University of Maryland-Baltimore — which enrolls less than a thousand undergrads (87% of the students enrolled are in graduate level programs), the flagship University of Maryland at College Park, and Bowie State University, the state’s oldest historically Black college or university.

Wrapping up her fifth year as Bowie State University president, Aminta Breaux said the school’s HBCU connection and the growing awareness of such institutions are part of the reason why the school is growing. But she also said a greater emphasis on fundraising and new programs and simply improving marketing efforts are also having an effect.

“We have seen around a 3% growth since 2017,” she said. “Our applications are up, just since last year, by 37%.

“We’re promoting the excellence across this country,” Breaux said. However, she also argued that improving academics on the school’s campus is also having an impact.

“Every business, every organization, is focused on cybersecurity,” she said. “We’re one of the leading producers here in Maryland for cybersecurity analysts. We have a center of excellence that’s supported by the Department of Homeland Security and the (National Security Agency).”

It also helps that the school is in proximity to various federal agencies and private sector companies.

“Our employers have taken advantage of our proximity to them in recognizing us as a talent pipeline,” Breaux said.

A new building that houses an expanded nursing program is also meeting a need in a post-pandemic world.

“With COVID-19, we recognize that there are nurses that may leave the profession. But we need to reinforce nursing as a pipeline,” Breaux said.

After a yearslong lawsuit filed by Maryland’s four HBCU’s against the state has been settled, Maryland is required to increase funding to those schools. And Breaux said there are plans for the money coming in.

“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to have more academic programs that are relevant for workforce needs,” she said.

At the same time, the school is celebrating its most successful fundraising campaign ever — raising over $41 million in recent years as part of its BSU Bold Campaign for Excellence.

And there’s also a realization that future growth will require a growing campus.

Just off Maryland Route 197 lies the school’s new Entrepreneurship Living and Learning Community, a maxed-out dorm and instructional building school leaders call the “Gateway” to the school. Breaux said the school wants to continue building around the “Gateway” to make it more of a destination around the region.

That means her eyes are on the property around the campus: its MARC Train Station, which is otherwise totally undeveloped.

“To have that serve as a hub of excitement with amenities, making sure that this is a destination place, we hope that we will be able to create an innovation hub for businesses to come here and work with our faculty and students,” Breaux said.

She also envisions a parking garage and hotel.

“It’s at the early stages right now, but we’re looking at a transit-oriented development zone, where there will be great excitement taking advantage of that train station,” she said. “When you drive along 197, there isn’t much along that corridor. But when you think about us being right between 295 and Route 50, there really is a great deal of opportunity.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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