HBCUs typically do not
have the resources – the endowments, the alumni donations –
that larger majority educational institutions – private and
public – have. HBCUs exist largely on student tuitions, all
of which have disappeared with the colleges closing during
this pandemic – a result, says Williams, of a combination of
“cost-sensitive consumers and fragile financial
Howard University, notes Dr. Williams, is not in as
difficult situation as other HBCUs because of the
university’s direct federal funding and because it is, he
says “the Athens of all HBCUs.” Howard’s president has given
a full refund to students still residing in its dorms and
those who had food plans.
However, it is a difficult future, he predicts, for Howard
and all HBCUs as they enter the sooner-or-later phase of
re-opening with a consumer base much more vulnerable
economically than the base of other institutions of higher
“The cascading impact will be exponential,” says Williams of
the effort to re-start, referencing his own medical college
concerns. For example, the incoming class of black doctors,
he notes, will have a delayed start in education; third year
students will not have met the criteria of interacting with
patients as they enter their fourth year.
The Howard University faculty, says Dr. Williams, is older
than “regular college faculties” and belong to the most
susceptible coronavirus group.
The $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress in March
earmarks $30 billion for education and $14.3 billion of that
total for institutions of higher learning. HBCUs and small
institutions with various needs are slated to split 10
percent of the higher education funds.
Among the many concerns for the HBCU students who are trying
to keep up with their studies online is the technology
demands on the institutions and students – a shortage of
Wifi and computers for the many low to middle-income
families who comprise about 75 percent of HBCU student
HBCU debt, says Gregory Price, professor of economics at the
University of New Orleans, is also a concern. Bethune-Cookman
in Daytona, Florida, notes Price, has a debt of $306 million
on a recently constructed dormitory. Now that the dorm is
empty, Bethune-Cookman will be hard pressed to make payments
on that debt in a timely manner.
Meanwhile the rich get richer. Harvard University, which
ended the 2019 fiscal year with a $300 million operating
surplus and has the nation’s largest endowment of $41
billion – enough to build new dormitories into the 22nd
century – will be receiving $8.7 million from the CARES Act
Higher Education Relief Fund.
What happens after the pandemic? Dr. Williams fears that
after the pandemic has subsided “public health policy and
political leanings can converge to widen historical
inequities” leading to a larger and more impoverished
In fact, such a widening of inequities is well underway.