Black colleges in the United States are reeling from the impact of slowdown that has hit their funding and are struggling to retain poor and middle income students.
The big government economic stimulus package President Barack Obama is expected to sign on Tuesday could provide some relief in a downturn that is hurting dozens of small, private universities set up for African Americans that lack big endowments and rely on tuition fees.
The colleges are a legacy of a past era when black students were barred from white-dominated higher education. Although the country now has its first black president in Obama, these institutions still play a valuable role, educators and politicians say.
Many US universities have been affected by the recession, which has eroded state and private funding for education. But a majority of students at black colleges come from low- or middle-income families, making them and their schools more vulnerable to the economic squeeze.
As it bites, students struggle to get loans and scholarships, and the colleges struggle to pay bills.
In a dramatic example, Clark Atlanta University laid off 70 of its 229 full-time faculty members and consolidated classes in its arts and science school last week when 300 students out of an enrollment of about 4,000 failed to return for the spring semester because of cost.
“Ninety-eight per cent of our students require financial aid. As that became less accessible, increasingly our students have found they were unable to return,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Jiles.
As it stands, the $787 billion stimulus bill includes money to make an “incredible difference” to HBCUs, said Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
It would include more than $800 million for infrastructure projects on HBCU campuses and $500 million over two years for improvements in technology as well as increased federal grants for students from low-income families, she said.