The coronavirus pandemic has affected all areas of higher education, but historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), already strained by declining enrollment, are in a uniquely precarious position. A new report indicates that HBCU enrollment has fallen to its second-lowest rate last year in 17 years. During the 2018-19 school year, 291,767 students were enrolled at HBCUs, 6,000 fewer students than the prior year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
HBCUs have been facing a number of stressors, including competition from online colleges, lack of funding, and low retention rates. All of these factors combined have created an existential threat. “There is a distinct possibility that a number of HBCUs could cease to exist in 20 years or so,” Ronnie Bagley, a retired Army colonel and HBCU alumnus, told NBC News. “If that were to occur, many low income, first generation students will lose out on an opportunity for a college education.”
Stimulus package includes $1 billion for minority-serving institutions
Realizing that the operational costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic are further hurting HBCUs, lawmakers, along with the United Negro College Fund, have been pushing for emergency funds for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.“HBCUs are unique institutions. They operate closer to the margins.” Lodriguez V. Murray, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, told Inside Higher Ed. “Situations outside of our control—natural disasters, hurricanes, and now the coronavirus pandemic—tend to hurt us more than other institutions.”
The $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress this week earmarks just over $1 billion for HBCUs, tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions. The funding is intended to help cover expenses associated with a transition to distance learning, keeping residence halls open and safe for students unable to go home, and assisting with travel costs for those who can. “Thankfully, this time Congress remembered us,” Michael L. Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund, told The New York Times.
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