Morgan State University, a Baltimore-based historically Black research university, this week announced that Calvin E. Tyler Jr. and his wife Tina Tyler have pledged $20 million to endow scholarships for low-income students. The commitment, thought to be the largest given to an HBCU by a former student, comes nearly six decades after financial struggles forced Calvin Tyler to drop out of the institution, then known as Morgan State College, two years into his postsecondary education.
Noting that he did not have a scholarship or family wealth to fall back on as an undergraduate, Tyler says he hopes the scholarships will help low-income students complete their degrees, especially at this time of great economic strain.
“My wife and I have become keenly aware of the effect that the pandemic has had on a number of young people trying to get an education [and] we have the resources to help a lot of young people,” Tyler told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “We want to have more full tuition scholarships offered to young people so that they can graduate from college and enter the next stage of their life debt free.”
Reducing students’ debt burden
Raised in Baltimore, Calvin Tyler enrolled at Morgan State in 1961 with hopes of becoming his family’s first college graduate. He dropped out in 1963 when his financial circumstances forced him to work instead. He took a job as a truck driver for UPS and worked at the company for 34 years, eventually becoming senior vice president for U.S. operations and serving on UPS’s board of directors.
Tyler says he hopes students don’t see his trajectory as inspiration to forego college. “That would be the biggest mistake of all,” he says. “I wish I’d finished. I would encourage young people to get all the education they can.”
Calvin and Tina Tyler first established their endowed scholarship fund at Morgan State—where 90 percent of its 7,600 students receive financial aid—in 2002 and had already pledged $5 million toward the fund as of 2016. This week’s announcement increases that amount by $15 million and expands eligibility to students nationwide; previously, the scholarships were earmarked for students from the Baltimore area.
The scholarships also have a relatively low grade point average requirement. “We concluded that the academic criteria for this scholarship should be 2.5—not a 3.8, not a 4.0—because we did not want to place the scholarship only in the hands of a select few students,” Morgan State President David K. Wilson told The New York Times.
To date, 222 Morgan State students have received scholarships from the Calvin and Tina Tyler Endowed Scholarship Fund, including 46 full scholarships. Tyler says he hopes the financial assistance helps reduce the debt burden disproportionately carried by Black students. “Going to college for four years and coming out with a degree and, at the same time, $80,000 to $100,000 in debt puts the person behind,” he says.
Inspiring future gifts
The Washington Post notes that the Tylers’ investment in Morgan State—which also recently received $40 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott—represents “a landmark gift for HBCUs,” whose alumni, given racial wealth gaps in this nation, “have not amassed the same levels of generational wealth.”
Tyler says he hopes HBCU alumni will view his gift as a challenge to give back to their institutions as soon as they can. “I want to set an example so that others should feel obligated,” he said. “I’d like to see more people come back and support HBCUs.”