HBCU Life TV - For HBCUs, the coronavirus pandemic hits especially close to home

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HBCU Life TV - Pandemic News



The global pandemic has hit many of these HBCU institutions particularly hard because many are grappling with already limited resources to provide value to their students. 

Leaders of historically Black colleges and universities are grappling with a challenge others in higher education don’t fully share: how to reopen their campuses to a population that has proven especially vulnerable to Covid-19.

Black people are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people, according to the Covid Racial Data Tracker. And nearly a third of deaths among nonwhite Americans were in people younger than 65, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with 13 percent among white people under that age.

“We have to acknowledge and recognize that African Americans with comorbidities have fared far worse in this pandemic than any other group,” said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick in an interview. “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.”

Howard, a private historically Black university in Washington, D.C., is aiming to reopen for some in-person classes this fall, using its on-campus hospital to facilitate both frequent student testing and treatment, if necessary. But a growing number of private HBCUs, which are predominantly located in the South, are opting for online-only instruction, university presidents and officials from the United Negro College Fund.

It’s a decision driven by health considerations — the South is currently home to some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country — but it has educational, financial and emotional implications for school communities, as well.

HBCU students are traditionally low-income, first-generation and academically underprepared college students of color, according to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the schools, themselves, typically have endowments that are only a fraction of predominantly white institutions.

Black students who lack sufficient access to resources for online learning could drop out or fall deeper into debt by transferring to a more expensive university closer to home. At the same time, traditionally underfunded HBCUs could lose even more revenue if fewer students enroll for the fall, and private polling shows that HBCU students are especially feeling the weight of a pandemic that has disproportionately infected, killed and laid off Black Americans.

Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, a private HBCU in Austin, Texas, said that before announcing class would be online-only in the fall, the school examined and gauged more than a dozen scenarios for reopening, in addition to holding listening sessions and surveying students.

A consortium of private HBCUs in Atlanta, including Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, just informed their student bodies last week that they would educate students entirely online this upcoming semester.

George French Jr., president of Clark Atlanta University, said his school had ordered digital thermometers, had test kits for students, restructured classrooms for social distancing, planned to limit the campus population from 4,000 to 1,700 and was in the process of testing all of its employees. But a deep dive into data found that the overwhelming majority of its incoming class — 97 percent — would come in from coronavirus hot spots.

“We could wind up with hundreds of individuals being infected in a number of days. It was just a risk that we couldn’t take,” French said. “Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse, Spelman, we each ran our numbers, and our losses are going to at each institution exceed $20 million. It’s a big financial loss, but it’s something that we had to do.”


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