Report Details Barriers Faced by Students at HBCUs

Posted February 6, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Four college-age, young Black men sit together at a table in a cafeteria. They are smiling, laughing and eating lunch.

His­tor­i­cal­ly Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties (HBCUs) were cre­at­ed to pro­vide more edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to African Amer­i­cans in the South fol­low­ing the Civ­il War. Today, there are more than 100 HBCUs in the Unit­ed States. Col­lec­tive­ly, these insti­tu­tions serve rough­ly 300,000 stu­dents each year and serve 1 in 10 Black stu­dents through­out the coun­try. HBCUs also enroll sig­nif­i­cant­ly more first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents and stu­dents from low-income fam­i­lies than tra­di­tion­al col­leges or uni­ver­si­ties. Nation­wide, 75% of stu­dents at HBCUs are Pell Grant recip­i­ents. Despite the impor­tant role they con­tin­ue to play, many HBCUs strug­gle with lack of invest­ment, dwin­dling enroll­ment and — most recent­ly — fall­out from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent report, titled Basic Needs Inse­cu­ri­ty at His­tor­i­cal­ly Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties, exam­ines these issues and shares rec­om­men­da­tions to address them. The pub­li­ca­tion, fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, draws on find­ings from a sur­vey admin­is­tered to near­ly 5,000 stu­dents from 14 pub­lic and pri­vate four-year HBCUs.

The report is a joint effort by The Hope Cen­ter for Col­lege, Com­mu­ni­ty and Jus­tice and Vir­ginia Union University’s Cen­ter for the Study of His­tor­i­cal­ly Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties. Both orga­ni­za­tions are part­ners in the new #Real­Col­lege­HBCU ini­tia­tive, which aims to build the capac­i­ty of six HBCUs to imple­ment stronger data-track­ing sys­tems and bet­ter meet stu­dents’ basic needs.

Basic Needs Inse­cu­ri­ty at HBCUs

Access to basic needs, such as healthy food and secure hous­ing, is crit­i­cal for stu­dent suc­cess. Yet accord­ing to the sur­vey, two-thirds of respon­dents report­ed that they’ve recent­ly strug­gled to meet their basic needs.

With­in these respons­es, 74% of les­bian, gay, bisex­u­al, trans­gen­der or queer-iden­ti­fy­ing par­tic­i­pants expe­ri­enced needs inse­cu­ri­ty, with only 34% of those stu­dents uti­liz­ing exist­ing cam­pus sup­ports such as SNAP benefits.

Male stu­dents also report­ed expe­ri­enc­ing basic needs inse­cu­ri­ty at a low­er rate com­pared to female stu­dents, though they were less like­ly to seek out cam­pus sup­port. This sug­gests that even when HBCUs have avail­able resources, many strug­gling stu­dents are unaware of them or unable to access them.

Food Inse­cu­ri­ty

Food inse­cu­ri­ty can range from going with­out food com­plete­ly to hav­ing lim­it­ed access to nutri­tion­al foods. Accord­ing to the sur­vey, 46% of respon­dents said they expe­ri­enced food inse­cu­ri­ty in the last 30 days.

The study notes that many stu­dents were faced with the dif­fi­cult deci­sion of choos­ing between food or pay­ing rent. It also shows that stu­dents who attend­ed pub­lic HBCUs expe­ri­enced food inse­cu­ri­ty and hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty at high­er rates than their peers at pri­vate HBCUs.

Hous­ing Inse­cu­ri­ty and Homelessness

Hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty refers to chal­lenges — such as the cost of rent/​utilities or the need to move fre­quent­ly — that pre­vent a per­son from hav­ing a safe, reli­able and afford­able place to live. The major­i­ty of respon­dents — 55% — said they expe­ri­enced hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty in the past year. 

A fifth of the stu­dents sur­veyed also stat­ed that they had expe­ri­enced home­less­ness in the past year. Under the cri­te­ria of the sur­vey, this could include liv­ing with­out a home, tem­porar­i­ly liv­ing with a rel­a­tive or liv­ing in a space not meant for human habitation.

The report empha­sizes that cam­pus clo­sures due to COVID-19 were a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in recent hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty. More than 10% of pub­lic HBCU stu­dents and 16% of pri­vate HBCU stu­dents who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the sur­vey moved three or more times in the past year.

Oth­er Pan­dem­ic-Induced Barriers

Accord­ing to the report, stu­dents of col­or were dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed by the wide­spread lay­offs and fur­loughs caused by the pan­dem­ic. Of the sur­vey respon­dents, 40% lost full-time jobs and 57% lost part-time jobs.

What’s more, near­ly a quar­ter of the stu­dents sur­veyed had lost a fam­i­ly mem­ber or friend to COVID-19.

Rec­om­men­da­tions to Meet Basic Needs at HBCUs

The report con­cludes with sev­er­al key rec­om­men­da­tions that fed­er­al and state pol­i­cy­mak­ers can fol­low to bet­ter sup­port HBCU stu­dents. Among them: 

  • Expand con­gres­sion­al fund­ing for HBCUs through Title III programs.
  • Allo­cate addi­tion­al fund­ing for the new­ly cre­at­ed Basic Needs for Post­sec­ondary Stu­dents Pro­gram, which would fund the cre­ation of fed­er­al pro­grams that address basic needs insecurity.
  • Cre­ate fed­er­al and state pol­i­cy that expands emer­gency aid and SNAP ben­e­fits for students.
  • Increase state fund­ing for HBCUs, includ­ing his­tor­i­cal­ly black com­mu­ni­ty colleges.
  • Cre­ate and expand finan­cial aid and emer­gency aid options for stu­dents who attend HBCUs.

Learn More About Casey’s Efforts to Help Black Col­lege Students

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