As the Founder and Director of the New York-New Jersey HBCU Initiative, most of my work happens in schools. On any given day, I could be speaking to students in the Bronx about the college process or giving out fee waived applications in Brooklyn. Not to mention, for years, I have awarded scholarships to deserving students in Yonkers. Since 2013, I have been speaking to students about the college process- in-person. With the massive outbreak of COVID-19, that has changed.
It was on March 13th, 2020, that schools began to close in Westchester. In the weeks to follow, speaking engagements, college tours, and career fairs have been cancelled around the country. My presentation at a high school in Brooklyn was no exception. COVID-19 has interrupted the lives of millions of people across the world. College towns like Orangeburg, South Carolina that boast two HBCUs; Claflin University and South Carolina State University, would soon see thousands of students return home.
One-by-one, all colleges, including over 100 HBCUs across the country, closed their doors to students. The solution that many schools came up with was virtual learning. Taking classes online has been a gift and a curse to college students. Submitting an assignment for a math class or an English class is one thing. The question is, what does a drama class, dance class, or a gym class look like in what many have coined, “the new normal?” How do professors fair, who have to video chat with 30 students? Not all students and professors have great internet connections. Not to mention the fact that not all students have access to a computer or laptop at home. Colleges are taking a hit, and so are businesses. Especially businesses that cater to college students.
Speaking of losing money, it is no secret that many HBCUs do not receive their fair share of funding. It is safe to say that the institutions that have always been taken care of, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, that all boast endowments of over 25 billion dollars, will be alright. It is our HBCUs that have had to and continue to have to fight for their fair share. Unfortunately, many of these institutions will not be able to weather this storm. Some HBCUs are struggling to keep their doors open due to financial pitfalls and sharp declines in enrolment.
To date, there are over 30 Historically Black Institutions that have permanently closed their doors. In 2018, Concordia College in Selma, Alabama, ceased operations. In 2013, both Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, and the Lewis College of Business in Detroit, Michigan, followed suit. One can only imagine the impact that COVID-19 is having on already struggling HBCUs. The National Park Service, through the Historic Preservation Fund, decided to award close to $8 million in grants to close to twenty HBCUs.
Only time will tell how this all phases out.