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HBCUs Struggling During Pandemic to Stay Afloat

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

The fate of historically black colleges and universities after the coronavirus pandemic has faded is a matter of great concern to these institution’s staff, faculty and administration.

“Our HBCUs are geographically situated in conservative regions which will impact – if not cripple – their ability to re-open,” says Dr. Mallory Williams, a Toledo resident and professor of surgery and chief of Trauma and Critical Care at Howard University College of Medicine.

Dr. Mallory Williams

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 institutions.”

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 learning.

“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 bodies.

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 underclass.

In fact, such a widening of inequities is well underway.



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/23/20 18:30:50 -0400.

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