President Makola M. Abdullah, Ph.D.

President Abdullah

"Serving as President of Virginia State University has been the highlight of my academic career. I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of an education. I work with amazing faculty and staff members who show an unwavering commitment to excellence in education. I extend my gratitude to the VSU Board of Visitors for their vote of confidence and for giving me the opportunity to continue the GREATER work at Virginia State University."

Dr. Makola M. Abdullah began his Virginia State University career in February 2016, bringing with him an unwavering dedication and commitment to excellence. Upon his appointment, he outlined his core beliefs that became the foundation of his work for VSU: beliefs in God, family, the transformative nature of education, and in Virginia State University. With that foundation in mind, Dr. Abdullah and his newly appointed administration began planning the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan: Preeminence with Purpose to chart the University's path to continued growth and excellence. His plan set forth the next chapter for VSU, which focused on six areas: Student Opportunity and Access, Academic Excellence, The Holistic Experience for Students, Enhancing the Land Grant Mission of the University, Advancing the VSU Brand and Financial/Operational Effectiveness.

Under Dr. Abdullah, VSU has experienced yearly enrollment growth and the highest retention rate in over twenty years. The University also increased the 4-year graduation rate to the highest recorded rate in the University's history. In 2023, VSU made history as the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) ever selected to host a General Election U.S. Presidential Debate. That same year, the University announced a new Employee Degree Attainment Program (EDAP) offering tuition assistance for higher education to VSU employees. Dr. Abdullah strongly supports the career development of faculty and staff at VSU.

Dr. Abdullah's leadership has helped VSU gain a reputation as one of the most prestigious HBCUs in the country. In 2023, VSU was ranked as the #1 HBCU in Virginia by Washington Monthly Magazine and as the #13 HBCU nationally by College Consensus. VSU also ranked in the top 20% in the "Performers on Social Mobility" list by U.S. News and World Report and in the top 27% of Best Value Universities for International Students, according to Study Abroad Aide, the most comprehensive database of universities in the world. In recent years, the University has extended its academic offerings with newly added undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. Additionally, the University offers fully online programs/degrees and a free tuition program for students from area high schools.

Since Dr. Abdullah's appointment, Virginia State University's year-end financial reserves have more than tripled. The University also received a $30 million gift—the largest single donor gift in the University's history—aiding the University in growing the investments from approximately $40 million to $80 million. In addition, under Dr. Abdullah, VSU has newer infrastructure happening concurrently than at any point in the University's 140-year history. This includes a new 30,000-square-foot admissions building, a research and cooperative extension facility, improvements to Rogers Stadium, and a new $120 million Alfred W. Harris Academic Commons—the largest building ever constructed on the VSU campus. In 2021, VSU also renamed four buildings to honor Black women who have made significant contributions to the University.

In 2018, under Dr. Abdullah's guidance, Virginia State University successfully completed its reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The University was reaffirmed for 10 years with no recommendations. Dr. Abdullah has led the launch of several major initiatives since taking office. These include the establishment of the John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership to assess, develop and empower African American leaders; the establishment of The Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice to address the critical divide between law enforcement and communities of color; and the establishment of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging on campus to promote good relations toward and support those who may be subject to discrimination. 

Boards and Committees

During his tenure at VSU, Dr. Abdullah has become a national leader, fighting for the transformative work of Virginia State University and all HBCUs. He has served on a plethora of boards and committees to include the following:

  • Chair of the Infrastructure Committee for the U.S. President's Board of Advisors (PBA) on Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Chair of the Council of Presidents for the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU)
  • Chair of the Council of Presidents for Virginia Institutions of Higher Education
  • Member of the 1890s Presidents for the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU) (Former Chair)
  • Member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Board of Directors (Former Chair)
  • Member of the Executive Council for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America National Board
  • Member of the Central VA Truist Regional Advisory Board
  • Member Virginia Historical Society Board of Trustees
  • Member of the A.L. Philpott Manufacturing Extension Partnership (dba GENEDGE) Board of Trustees
  • Member of the Richmond Forum Board of Directors
  • Member of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture Board of Trustees
  • Former member of the Lake Forest Academy Board of Trustees (Former Chair)

Education and Background

A Chicago native, Dr. Abdullah earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Howard University and his doctorate and master's degrees in civil engineering from Northwestern University. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.

Prior to his appointment as President of Virginia State University, Dr. Abdullah served as Provost and Senior Vice President at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, FL (2013-2016), Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, FL (2011-2013), and Dean and Director of 1890 Land Grant Programs at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, FL (2008-2011).

Honors and Awards

Dr. Abdullah has been recognized with several prestigious awards, including:

  • HBCU Male President of the Year (2017).
  • Howard University Alumni Award for Distinguished Postgraduate Achievement (2021).
  • Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities Humanitarian of the Year Award (2022).
  • Chester Family YMCA Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award for Leadership (2023).
  • Notably, he is the youngest African American to receive a Ph.D. in engineering.


Dr. Abdullah is married to Dr. Ahkinyala Cobb-Abdullah, former Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and former Director of the Center for STEM Diversity at Virginia Union University. They are proud parents of two HBCU college graduates: their son, Mikaili, a Morehouse College graduate with a Ph.D. from Morehouse School of Medicine, and their daughter, Sefiyetu, a two-time graduate of VSU with a Master of Science in Computer Science.