After denials increased in 2012, the department began allowing families who were previously approved or had minimal debt to appeal the rejections. It also conducted several outreach campaigns to educate the public and institutions about the changes, and now provides weekly reports to schools about PLUS applicants.
According to the Department of Education, parents have a strong likelihood of being approved if they ask for a reconsideration — though some schools, including Morgan, said they aren't seeing that — and if denied, become eligible to apply for unsubsidized loans that have lower interest rates. Those loans are typically capped at smaller amounts.
Coppin State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — the state's two other historically black institutions, in addition to Morgan and Bowie — said they were still assessing the impact of the PLUS Loan changes.
Coppin spokeswoman Tiffany Jones said the school expects to be down by about 100 to 150 students this fall, a 3 percent to 4 percent drop, but it wasn't clear what, if any, role the PLUS Loans played.
Last year, at least 67 percent of the 408 Parent PLUS Loan applicants from Coppin were denied, according to preliminary figures Jones provided. But she couldn't say how that compared to the rate in 2011. The Baltimore-based school charges $5,900 for in-state undergraduates, and $10,800 for out-of-state.
Anthony Jenkins, the vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, also said he expects enrollment numbers to be down this fall, but more so because the school is tightening its academic standards.
Still, he called the loan changes a "very important issue" that the higher education community needs to discuss. The Eastern Shore school charges $7,000 for in-state undergraduates and $15,500 for out-of-state undergrads.
In an interview, Morgan's Wilson said he first became aware of the loan program changes last year, when the school experienced a small decline in enrollment. Similar drops were occurring at other traditionally black schools, and administrators determined that the loan program was to blame.
This year, the enrollment decline worsened at Morgan, which charges in-state undergraduates $7,200 per year and out-of-state undergraduates $16,600. Wilson blamed the bulk of it on rejected Parent PLUS Loans and reached out to alumni to stem the departures.
"We have several hundred students who are thirsting for a college degree, and the only thing holding them back is the financial wherewithal to get it," Wilson said. "I think the country will be in a bad place if we end up where college is only available for those who can afford to pay for it. I do not think that is a good place for the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland and for the nation to be."
As of Wednesday, $23,500 had been raised, a Morgan spokesman said.
By the numbers
$150 million: The amount of denied Parent PLUS Loans for those attending historically black institutions
128,000: The number of students at those institutions whose parents were denied Parent PLUS Loans
SOURCE: Congressional Black Caucus