COVID-19

Historically Black colleges and universities face new financial hurdles

Kristin Schwab Jul 24, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Pictured: Graduates of Bowie State University, an HBCU in Maryland, attended ceremonies with messages on their mortarboard hats in 2013. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
COVID-19

Historically Black colleges and universities face new financial hurdles

Kristin Schwab Jul 24, 2020
Pictured: Graduates of Bowie State University, an HBCU in Maryland, attended ceremonies with messages on their mortarboard hats in 2013. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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Usually by this point in the summer, Sidney Evans, the chief financial officer at Morgan State University in Baltimore, has the budget nailed down. “I typically have certainty around a number of very critical components to the university’s financial position,” he said.

The pandemic has brought nothing but uncertainty, at a time when many schools are already struggling. Many colleges and universities still haven’t figured out the fall term, much less the long term. The only thing they’re all ready for is a financial blow. And that could land especially hard on the nation’s 100 or so historically Black colleges and universities, which often operate with fewer resources.

One of those resources is tuition. Enrollments are down, which means less revenue. And at HBCUs, tuition is already often lower than at predominantly white schools. “That puts us behind the eight ball from the very beginning,” Evans said.

Plus, HBCUs don’t typically take in as much in donations. On average, their endowments are 70% smaller than those of other schools. “It’s a big amount,” said Marybeth Gasman, who directs the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions. “And what that tells us is that they just don’t have the safety net that non-HBCUs often have.”

Schools’ economic struggles can reflect systemic ones. “You know, a lot of times I’ll hear people say, well, alumni don’t give to HBCUs or people don’t give to HBCUs,” she said. “And one thing that we have to remember is African Americans don’t have the same kinds of assets.”

Though the pandemic is a new problem, HBCUs’ financial struggles are not. And they’ve weathered storms before. To get through this one, they’re focusing on keeping students safe, and enrolled. At Morgan State, for instance, classes will be a mix of in-person and online. Student housing will expand beyond dorms to apartments and hotels near campus. And there will be more counselors available to help students deal with pandemic-related stress.

“The fact that HBCUs do know how to do more with less, I think that may put HBCUs in an even stronger position to withstand some of the burden,” said Ivory Toldson, president of the nonprofit Quality Education for Minorities and a professor at Howard University. 

In fact, schools may see enrollment go up, with the ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Studies show that after periods of racial unrest, more people apply to HBCUs. “There’s some optimism that more of that could happen as students are trying to find a place where their cultural identity will be affirmed,” Toldson said.

It’s a sentiment that goes back more than 180 years to the founding of America’s first historically Black college. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that was supposed to get the federal government back into the business of topping up unemployment benefits, to $400 a week. Few states, however, are currently paying even part of the benefit that the president promised. And, it looks like, in most states, the maximum additional benefit unemployment recipients will be able to get is $300.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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