HBCUs doubly hurt by campus shutdowns in coronavirus pandemic

Despite uptick in enrollment, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are struggling financially due to the ongoing pandemic. Without their students on campus, where tuition fuels HBCU operations, many schools could be facing financial ruin.

Posted: May 19, 2020 8:11 AM
Updated: May 19, 2020 8:11 AM

Leaders of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) say they are being hit by unique challenges as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on communities and finances.

Sending students home meant a loss of room and board fees, while the switch to online learning brought additional costs for colleges.

The reduced income and extra spending were even more significant for HBCUs. They generally have smaller endowments that can be used as a financial buffer and also rely more on in-person experiences.

Quinton Ross, president of Alabama State University, said some institutions were faced with a lack of technological set-up for online learning and a need to help students returning to homes where they may not have had computers or connectivity.

"We had to rush to try to provide and undergird ourselves with technology [and] many of the infrastructures are not up to par," he said.

The adjustment has been costly. Without providing precise figures, Ross estimated the impact of the coronavirus so far on ASU has been "in the millions."

The financial structure of many HBCUs has left them especially vulnerable, the college heads say.

Within both public and private sectors, HBCU endowments lag behind those of non-HBCUs by at least 70%, a recent report by the American Council on Education found last year.

Instead, HBCUs as well as Hispanic-serving institutions and community colleges rely heavily on their year-to-year enrollments, said Virginia State University President Makola Abdullah.

"We are largely tuition-driven, and we are largely dependent on the level of financial aid help that our students can get from their Pell grant, from the state and from philanthropy," he said. "And so it puts us in a slightly different situation in that our level of reserves would be lower."

He added: "We're all in the same storm, but we're not all in the same boat."

Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University in Washington, said endowments are not a panacea, though he said "the situation is 10 times worse" for those institutions without them.

"Even the schools with large endowments are suggesting that the crashing economy, and the fact that there's so much restricted money in their endowment, that they can't use those endowments to fix their financial situation," he said in an interview with CNN.

Howard's budget is now being adjusted for an estimated $39 million shortfall in revenues, which includes $6 million refunded to students, Frederick said in a letter to his college community.

Last month, the Department of Education allocated $1.4 billion in relief funding specifically to institutions serving minority populations, including HBCUs. The money was part of the aid package authorized by Congress.

Some alumni of HBCUs in Congress, like Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina, are working on securing more money in the next relief package that is being discussed. "We're trying to be trying to be creative and figure out how we can weather this storm," she said.

But Arthur Brigati, vice president of institutional advancement at Miles College, an HBCU liberal arts institution in Alabama, told CNN that while the $1.4 billion and other aid for higher education earmarked by Congess and approved by the President was "fantastic," it was only a first step in putting the fire out. "Things still smolder," he said.

Abdullah of Virginia State said the financial impact of the pandemic was again raising fears that colleges could go under. "We are very concerned that without the adequate federal and state support, many institutions that serve the underserved might not be around," he said.

Data already suggests that the percentage of low-income students seeking federal student aid is decreasing -- a sign that they may not be in a financial position to return to school in the fall. Financial applications for the 2020-21 school year from the lowest-income students are down 8.2% -- or nearly 250,000 students -- according to data from the National College Attainment Network.

The applications had been on track to be comparable to last year, until March 15 when completions started to decline while lockdowns spread across the country.

Frederick remains optimistic, noting registration for the fall at Howard is currently up and that when the job market is tight, some may see college as a better option.

But he and his colleagues recognize that much is unknown -- such as how much teaching can be in person this fall. Traditionally, culture on HBCU campuses has been a draw for prospective students, and so the question becomes whether they will attend if the experience looks vastly different.

"I tell most parents and students, one of the reasons you come to Howard is because 20% of what you're going to get is an excellent education in the classroom," Frederick said. "But 80% of the time you spend is going to be outside interacting with people, interacting with the culture, the experience. And so taking that away is problematic."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 768624

Reported Deaths: 13993
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1055891807
Lake569801031
Allen43032699
St. Joseph37344568
Hamilton37335426
Elkhart29783470
Tippecanoe23503230
Vanderburgh23240405
Porter19580327
Johnson18843392
Hendricks18089323
Madison13575347
Clark13552198
Vigo12869256
LaPorte12578225
Monroe12575178
Delaware11155198
Howard10693237
Kosciusko9792124
Hancock8761150
Bartholomew8274157
Warrick8084157
Floyd8043182
Grant7378181
Wayne7239201
Boone7211105
Morgan6924143
Marshall6345117
Dubois6283118
Cass6096112
Dearborn602178
Noble600890
Henry5958111
Jackson517277
Shelby511598
Lawrence4928127
Gibson463696
Montgomery459292
DeKalb456785
Clinton456055
Harrison454077
Huntington417882
Whitley416745
Steuben411260
Miami406073
Jasper401655
Knox388691
Putnam385762
Wabash370384
Adams353856
Ripley351971
Jefferson343487
White340154
Daviess3089100
Wells304081
Greene295185
Decatur292693
Fayette286564
Posey282635
Scott281058
LaGrange277772
Clay274949
Washington254637
Randolph247783
Jennings239749
Spencer238731
Fountain235850
Starke229959
Owen222959
Sullivan221643
Fulton208945
Jay203032
Carroll197722
Orange191756
Perry189939
Vermillion181144
Rush177627
Tipton173347
Franklin172535
Parke155916
Pike142534
Blackford138032
Pulaski123748
Newton123336
Benton109715
Brown106243
Crawford105816
Martin92515
Warren87915
Switzerland8378
Union73610
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1125420

Reported Deaths: 20490
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1305631493
Cuyahoga1173952263
Hamilton825481261
Montgomery536581062
Summit489381014
Lucas43799834
Butler40064614
Stark33876939
Lorain26072510
Warren24959312
Mahoning22738613
Lake21482396
Clermont20425261
Delaware19169138
Licking16879227
Trumbull16829492
Fairfield16825207
Medina15880276
Greene15565254
Clark14366308
Portage13450218
Wood13358201
Allen12064245
Richland11748213
Miami11047228
Wayne9275228
Columbiana9216236
Muskingum9144137
Pickaway8755123
Tuscarawas8724255
Marion8716140
Erie8146166
Ashtabula7280179
Hancock7050135
Ross7031165
Geauga6975153
Scioto6726108
Belmont6224179
Lawrence5964104
Union591649
Jefferson5729162
Huron5644122
Sandusky5498130
Darke5448131
Seneca5380128
Washington5373111
Athens527260
Auglaize507787
Mercer491785
Shelby484397
Knox4621113
Madison448066
Ashland446198
Defiance439499
Fulton436875
Putnam4358104
Crawford4120111
Brown410462
Preble3956107
Logan392279
Clinton391466
Ottawa376481
Highland366668
Williams357378
Champaign349860
Guernsey331554
Jackson321954
Perry299050
Morrow294943
Fayette289350
Hardin279665
Henry277467
Coshocton273061
Holmes2726102
Van Wert252365
Gallia251150
Adams250958
Pike244837
Wyandot235557
Hocking222963
Carroll201449
Paulding180142
Meigs151540
Monroe137945
Noble137939
Harrison115438
Morgan111724
Vinton87517
Unassigned04
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