Kristina Ackerman doesn’t have enough money to study abroad. But Ms. Ackerman, a graduate student in international studies at Morgan State University, found a more affordable opportunity to learn about global cultures through iPals, a program that pairs Morgan State students with international students on the campus to help them get accustomed to college life in the United States.
The student pairs must meet for at least an hour a week. But for Ms. Ackerman and her Brazilian iPal, Lidia Ferreira, that hour is less a course requirement than it is a window into another world.
"You’re learning about different life experiences, different growing-up situations, different laws, different daily lives, different food," says Ms. Ackerman.
Ms. Ferreira is finishing up a year of study at Morgan State assisted by the White House’s HBCU-Brazil Alliance, which gives Brazilian students the chance to study at some of America’s oldest historically black colleges. iPals and a series of other partnerships that Morgan State has with universities in Saudi Arabia, China, and Mexico are all part of the institution's larger effort to expand and diversify its student body.
Morgan State, a 7,700-student university in Baltimore, was among the many historically black colleges whose enrollments were hurt in recent years by changes in the Parent PLUS Loan program and increased competition from other universities.
"Traditionally our institutions went after students that other institutions would not allow in," says David Wilson, who has been Morgan State’s president since 2010. "But now, other institutions are aggressively going after those students in ways that are unprecedented. And so we have to also be competitive and go after students who traditionally go to those institutions — meaning international students, meaning white students, meaning Hispanic students."
From 2007 to 2014 the number of foreign students at Morgan State increased to 500 from 304, a 64-percent jump.
Mr. Wilson also says the university's international strategy brings benefits that go beyond bolstering its bottom line.
By increasing its international enrollments, Morgan State officials say, the university brings global exposure to its many black students, who typically do not study abroad. Nearly 82 percent of Morgan State’s students are African-American, and according to the the Institute of International Education's Open Doors report, black students made up only 5.3 percent of students who studied abroad in 2012-13.
"This is really a function of those students' not having the resources that majority students and wealthier students might have," says Mr. Wilson. "We understood that here at Morgan, so basically what we’re trying to do is to make sure our students are in an environment every single day where they’re coming in contact with the future leaders of the world, and the different experiences that these students bring."
An uptick in the number of international students at Morgan State may throw its status as an HBCU into question, but Ms. Ackerman does not think so. "It’s still an HBCU. It’s not going to change what Morgan was and is, so I think the diversity is cool," she says. "I think we need more of it."
Correction (4/2/2015, 4:43 p.m.): This article originally credited a statistic to the wrong source. The data on the proportion of black students who study abroad came from the Institute of International Education, not Nafsa: Association of International Educators. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.