Pandemic Ushers in ‘New Normal' for Historically Underfunded HBCUs

With more than $500 million in aid under the CARES Act, the federal government is closing the funding gap between HBCUs and other colleges and universities

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted funding and resource inequities among Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- many of which were founded and subsidized by states, federal government, philanthropists or churches -- experts say, and forced some of these schools to make tough decisions to continue to educate their unique population.

Even prior to the pandemic, HBCUs had to do more with less, experts say. In recent years, a number of schools have been forced to the brink of closure or put their accreditation at risk.

"COVID-19 has affected HBCUs just like every other campus, but one of the things that our institutions are disproportionately affected by is, our institutions disproportionately educate a lower-income population," said Brian Bridges, vice president of research and member engagement for the United Negro College Fund, which works with more than 30 HBCUs. "And COVID-19 is exacerbating, or at least reinforcing, how much of a divide there is between the haves and have-nots."

More than 70 percent of students attending HBCUs are low-income, compared to 35 to 40 percent nationally, Bridges said. As a result, UNCF worked with a number of HBCUs to provide tech support, laptops and other resources as schools moved to virtual learning environments to try to slow the spread of the virus. It also worked with schools that took a financial hit after returning refunds to students by lobbying for federal assistance.

Under the CARES Act, HBCUs received more than $500 million in aid, which experts say helped many schools stay afloat but also helped somewhat close the historic gap in funding.

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