Historically Black Colleges And Universities Struggle To Cope With Recession

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

February 11, 2008

The economic downturn has hit historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) particularly hard.

Faced with decreased enrollment, Clark Atlanta University recently announced plans to lay off about 100 workers, including 70 faculty members. The Associated Press reports that university spokeswoman Jennifer Jiles insisted that the cuts were necessary to prevent major financial loss.

Jiles noted that many students are encountering difficulty securing loans, which is negatively affecting the school's enrollment numbers. She estimated that 98 percent of Clark Atlanta's students receive some sort of financial aid.

Similarly, Georgia's Ledger-Enquirer [from an article originally located at http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/251/story/612826.html] reports that Spelman College, a historically black women's institution, will be cutting 35 positions. The school announced that its budget will be reduced by $4.8 million, and the campus will be closed for one week after graduation in May.

US News and World Report notes the Georgia state legislature is considering merging Savannah State University and Armstrong Atlantic State University, two HBCUs in financial dire straits, with nearby historically white colleges. And experts predict that unless the economy recovers soon, many HBCUs will be forced to close.

"This is going to be a really tough time for low-income students," said United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax in US News and World Report. "And it is going to get tougher." UNCF funds operations at 39 private HBCUs and oversees hundreds of scholarships, but is currently facing financial cutbacks as a result of reduced endowment profits and donations.

State financial aid cutbacks have been particularly painful for HBCUs, which sometimes receive less state support than white colleges. According to James Minor, a Michigan State University expert on HBCUs, North Carolina State University received more than $18,000 per student, while historically black Fayetteville State University received less than $10,000 per student.

Layoffs can often affect minorities first, and as a result, HBCU students are facing financial difficulties as their parents struggle to foot tuition bills. In addition, improved financial aid packages at historically white schools are luring many African-Americans to elite private colleges and state universities. US News and World Report notes that top universities, such as Columbia and Cornell, accept hundreds of black students every year.

But some students are seeing the downturn as an opportunity. In St. Louis, historicallyblack Harris-Stowe State University is reporting record applications this year, which officials attribute to tuition of less than $5,000 a year. And Morehouse College, an HBCU which last year had a white valedictorian, is attracting applicants in part because of tuition fees significantly lower than other small private colleges in the Northeast.

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