Bowie State University is an outgrowth of the first school opened in Baltimore, MD, on January 9, 1865, by the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Educational Improvement of Colored People, which was organized on November 28, 1864 to engage in its self-appointed mission on a statewide basis. The first normal school classes sponsored by the Baltimore Association were held in the African Baptist Church located on the corner of Calvert and Saratoga streets. In 1868, with the aid of a grant from the Freedmen's Bureau, the Baltimore Association purchased from the Society of Friends a building at Courtland and Saratoga streets for the relocation of its normal school until 1883, when it was reorganized solely as a normal school to train Negro teachers.
The Baltimore Normal School had received occasional financial support from the City of Baltimore since 1870 and from the state since 1872. In 1871, it received a legacy from the Nelson Wells Fund. This fund, established before Wells' death in February 1943, provided for the education of freed Negro children in Maryland. On April 8, 1908, at the request of the Baltimore Normal School, which desired permanent status and funding as an institution for the education of Negro teachers, the state legislature authorized its Board of Education to assume control of the school. The same law re-designated the institution as a Normal School No. 3. Subsequently, it was relocated on a 187-acre tract in Prince George's County and by 1914, it was known as the Maryland Normal and Industrial School at Bowie.
A two-year professional curriculum in teacher education which started in 1925 was expanded to a three-year program. In 1935, a four-year program for the training of elementary school teachers began and the school was renamed Maryland State Teachers College at Bowie. In 1951, with the approval of the State Board of Education, its governing body, Bowie State expanded its program to train teachers for junior high schools. Ten years later, permission was granted to institute a teacher-training program for secondary education. In 1963, a liberal arts program was started and the name was changed to Bowie State College.
In 1970, Bowie State College was authorized to grant its first graduate degree, the Master of Education. A significant milestone in the development of the graduate studies at Bowie State was achieved with the Board of Trustees' approval of the establishment of the Adler-Dreikurs Institute of Human Relations in 1975. Currently, the University offers bachelor's and master's degree programs and one doctoral degree in educational leadership. Included in the inventory of degree programs is the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science in nursing, Master of Arts, Master of Arts in teaching, Master of Education, Master of Science, Master of Science in nursing, Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Administration.
On July 1, 1988, Bowie State College officially became Bowie State University, a change reflecting significant growth in the institution's programs, enrollment and service to the local area. On the same day, the University also became one of the constituent institutions of the newly formed University System of Maryland.
In 1995, Bowie State University won an 11-year $27 million award from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration/National Science Foundation to become one of only six national Model Institutions for Excellence in science, engineering and mathematics. This award significantly strengthened the institution's academic infrastructure and enhanced an already excellent computer science and technology program that has consistently ranked first in the nation in graduating African American students with master's degrees.
Bowie State University, throughout its history, has achieved major milestones in spite of limited resources. In spring 2005, with the unveiling of the supercomputer that was built by Bowie State University faculty and students, Bowie State University emerged as a leader among higher education institutions in computing power. At the time of its unveiling, Bowie State's supercomputer was the fastest supercomputer of all higher education institutions in the state of Maryland, the eighth fastest in the United States and among the top 200 fastest in the world.
Among the nation's leaders in teacher education, with 50 years of successive accreditation by the National Council of the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), it stands to reason that Bowie State University's first doctoral program would be in the field of education. For the first time in the history of the University, Bowie State University conferred an earned doctorate, with 16 persons receiving the Doctorate in Educational Leadership, during the May 2005 commencement.