The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on college enrollment in the last year. Overall undergraduate enrollment dropped 4.4 percent. However, HBCUs saw a 5.5 percent drop in enrollment with 10.5 percent of that enrollment decline being in the male student population, according to recent reports.
Prior to the pandemic, many HBCUs were already in precarious financial situations. Lagging alumni donations, mismanagement, and lack of public and private funding have left HBCUs with substantial challenges with regards to financial sustainability. This was despite the fact that HBCUs graduate 20 percent of all Black college graduates.
Students like Asia Williams, a sophomore at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, began to consider other options should the school have to shut down. Williams, a music business major, told NBC, “My mom and I began to have conversations about transferring just in case things got worse,” she said. “It was a little nerve-wracking, because there was a chance I would have to restart my whole college career.”
HBCUs were in even more dire straits when it came to having to upgrade their campuses to meet CDC guidelines of safety during this period of covid. According to an NBC report, “It cost the already-strapped institution admissions and dormitory fees, and the university was forced to spend on Covid-19 safety protocols.”
Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests not only highlighted the injustices of police brutality, they also elevated the diversity of Black businesses and educational institutions, including the107 HBCU – many that struggle to the point of near-extinction.
It was this focus that led to a bounty of financial support from people like MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos who pledged $260 million and Diageo North America – who pledged a gift to Williams’ institution Fisk University in the amount of $25 million.
The struggling HBCUs have not closed in the pandemic. Some have even been able to balance their budgets. But, to paraphrase Bethune-Cookman University President E. LaBrent Chrite, their survival is not inevitable. That will require a steady stream of support from federal programs designed to specifically support these historic institutions and for outside support to come to them with the same vigor and flourish as schools like Yale and Harvard. After all, these schools gave us our first Black and female Vice President.