Alabama HBCUs Face Unique Reopening Challenges in the Midst of COVID-19
Montgomery, Ala. – While African Americans only make up about 26 percent of Alabama’s population, they account for more than 42 percent of the state’s deaths. CovidTracking reports that nationwide, Blacks are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people. The data presents a stark reality for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that are attempting to re-open in the coming weeks.
Politico reported that many of Atlanta’s HBCUs, including Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University, will entirely educate their students online for the upcoming semester. Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick said “we have to acknowledge and recognize that African Americans with comorbidities have fared far worse in this pandemic than any other group. I think, for an HBCU in particular, there’s a lot of differences in terms of opening that are probably a little more accentuated because of our circumstances.”
Most Alabama HBCUs are preparing to re-open as the state added another 1,778 new cases today, and reported 18 additional COVID-19 related deaths. Alabama State University’s (ASU) plan includes a requirement for mandatory face masks on campus. ASU is also providing a variety of education options, including in-person learning, online instruction, or a combination of both.
Tuskegee University’s plan states, “we envision a campus that is secure and prudent in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and responds to the medical and social needs of those who are infected and affected by the disease.” Like ASU, Tuskegee is offering its students face-to-face learning, along with other virtual learning options.
The uncertainty comes at a time when many HBCUs are fighting for their financial survival. A June article from USA TODAY reported that many HBCUs, due to their smaller size and status as private institutions, rely on fees derived from dining services, lodging and bookstores more so than their public counterparts. With schools transitioning to more online services, the revenue from those activities will likely dry up, potentially forcing schools to downsize or cut programs.
Additionally, more than 70 percent of Black students receive Pell Grants, and many take out student loans to pay for their education. As health issues mount on top of economic hardship, there are rising concerns that some students will be forced to leave programs for financial reasons, further compounding the struggles facing many of the nation's HBCUs.