Report highlights outsized impact of COVID on basic needs of HBCU students / Public News Service

A student survey in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) nationwide, nearly half have been food insecure in the past 30 days.

More than half have experienced housing insecurity during the pandemic, with many students saying they choose between paying rent or buying food. The report noted that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on HBCU students has exacerbated existing racial inequalities.

Terrell Strayhorn, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Virginia Union University and director of the Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, co-author of the report, said investing in student needs is essential to increase student success.

“It’s hard to feel like you belong in higher education when your basic needs aren’t being met,” Strayhorn explained. “When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills and have food and have a place to lay your head, but you’re expected to show up to biology class.”

The report notes that HBCUs account for more than 20% of black American bachelor’s degrees and serve many Pell Scholarship-eligible students, meaning they are eligible for the federal need-based scholarship program.

Missouri has two HBCUs: Harris-Stowe State University in Saint Louis and Lincoln Universitya land-grant institution in Jefferson City.

Public HBCUs depend on federal, state, and local funding for more than half of their incomecompared to 38% for their predominantly white counterparts.

Andre Smith, a political scientist at Fayetteville State University, formerly of Harris-Stowe State University, said Missouri’s university funding model is performance-based, and that both HBCUs as well as Missouri Western, an institution in predominantly white in St. Joseph, are found on the low end.

“They have the most needy students who will need the most institutional support,” Smith pointed out. “But because of Missouri’s funding model, these three schools receive the least funding.”

The report is a joint effort of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice and the Virginia Union’s Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It makes state and federal policy recommendations for lawmakers, including expanding financial aid and emergency aid options for HBCU students.

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