COVID-19 Closures Could Hit HBCUs Particularly Hard: ‘Any Drop In Enrollment Could Be Devastating’

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Written by Ann Brown
HBCUs
COVID-19 closures could hit HBCUs particularly Hard. “Any drop in enrolment could be devastating” for HBCUs, experts agree. Illustration: T.J. Hawk. Modification: MMG

The COVID-19 pandemic is already taking a financial toll on many institutions, especially historically Black colleges and universities. HBCUs, which are for the most part financially strapped, depend heavily on tuition and tend to have smaller endowments than other schools. 

Colleges and universities across the country are still operating through online classes. However, many HBCUs say they don’t have the technical capacity to deliver quality online classes. Some say they are carrying too much debt to invest in new tech.

Seventy-five percent of HBCU students are eligible for Pell Grants for students from low- to middle-income families. Some HBCUs including Paul Quinn College, in Dallas, Texas, are lending students laptops for the rest of the semester.

“I am worried about the technology demands on HBCUs, given how few IT specialists many smaller HBCUs have as well as the costs of managing online classes,” said Marybeth Gasman, professor of education at Rutgers University, according to a Yahoo report. “I’m also worried about students not having access to Wi-Fi at home or laptops.”

Bethune Cookman, a private historically Black university in Daytona Beach, Florida, must spend nearly $306 million to pay off debt it acquired to build a new dorm. The dorm could wind up empty if the coronavirus outbreak continues. Bethune Cookman was already experiencing a decline in enrollment prior to the pandemic. 

If these HBCUs get into financial trouble, they risk losing their accreditation since financial stability is one part of what it takes to remain accredited. Without accreditation, it is nearly impossible to recruit students, Yahoo reported.

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Unlike other educational institutions, HBCUs tend not to have rainy day funds. “Because HBCUs have small or relatively small endowments and because they educate some of the most socioeconomically vulnerable students, they face a disproportionately high level of risk right now,” Gasman said. “HBCUs are similar to families without substantial savings. HBCUs are funded heavily by tuition. Any drop in enrollment, which could happen by way of students not returning next year or not enrolling next year, will be devastating.”

Keeping this in mind, some Black colleges could be in danger of permanently closing unless they receive some sort of federal assistance during the pandemic.