Report Details Barriers Faced by Students at HBCUs
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 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.