HBCU initiative aims to address widespread basic needs insecurity

Two-thirds of students enrolled across 14 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) reported basic needs insecurity in fall 2020, according to new survey results released by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University. The study findings not only highlight “the extent of overlapping pandemic and basic needs challenges for students attending HBCUs” but also will guide the institutions as they collaborate on a new initiative aimed at better supporting their campus communities.

For the report, researchers from the Hope Center surveyed nearly 5,000 students across seven public and seven private HBCUs offering four-year degrees. Among the respondents:

  • 46 percent reported experiencing food insecurity at some point in the prior month.
  • 55 percent reported experiencing housing insecurity in the past year.
  • Low-income, LGBTQ, and female students reported especially high rates of food and housing insecurity.
  • 20 percent reported experiencing homelessness in the prior year.
  • Nearly a quarter had lost a loved one to COVID-19.
  • 57 percent and 40 percent of students who had been working part-time and full-time, respectively, said they had lost their jobs by fall 2020.

“These numbers speak to something far greater than an HBCU problem or an African-American problem,” Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Texas, wrote in a letter accompanying the report. “These numbers speak to an American problem. One, which if allowed to go unchecked, will compromise the future of too many talented citizens.”

Equipping HBCUs to seek more funds, deepen student supports

Hoping to increase HBCUs’ capacity to support students facing food, housing, and other basic needs insecurity, the Hope Center has launched a new initiative in conjunction with the survey results’ release.

Through the #RealCollegeHBCU initiative, the Hope Center will partner with the Center for the Study of HBCUs at Virginia Union University (VUU) to offer training sessions to student affairs professionals at 10 HBCUs. Participating institutions will learn and share best practices for seeking additional state and federal funding. They also will work on optimizing their system of student support services.

The two goals go hand-in-hand, Atif Qarni, the Hope Center’s managing director for external affairs, told Inside Higher Ed. HBCU leaders are highly aware of the wraparound supports needed by their students but lack funding to offer them. Qarni says the new initiative seeks to help HBCUs address basic needs “based on good, empirical research,” making systemic improvements that position them to secure additional funding as it becomes available.

“This collaborative partnership between our Centers is a way to take a united stance against inequity, to build institutional capacity at HBCUs, and to move the needle through specific sets of actions,” Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn, the provost, senior vice president of academic affairs, and director of the Center for the Study of HBCUs at VUU, wrote to Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “Right now is the right time to do this good work.”

$198M in federal aid to help meet students’ basic needs

Meanwhile, in another effort to address basic needs insecurity among U.S. college students overall, the Biden-Harris administration has announced that it is inviting applications for an additional $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds. Education officials have said that, in awarding the funds this spring, they will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions that enroll a large share of low-income students and have experienced declining enrollment during the pandemic.

The Department of Education also published guidance suggesting how colleges and universities could deploy institutional Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants to meet students’ basic needs. Colleges, for instance, could use the funds to subsidize childcare for student parents, bolster mental health services, add textbooks to open educational resources, or forgive outstanding student fees. Education officials also are encouraging campus leaders to partner with other stakeholders to ensure students are aware of available institutional and public resources.

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