Higher education leaders say they are very worried about the financial impact on their institutions from the coronavirus pandemic that forced virtually all schools to close early this spring — a concern just underscored by warnings that new federal aid won’t be close to enough to deal with their losses.

(Brian Witte/AP)

Colleges and universities face revenue losses from a number of sources; many, for example, are returning significant amounts of money to students for services they will no longer receive, such as room and board; and they are incurring increased expenses to shift from regular operations to online.

Late last month, Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2 trillion federal relief package for the country, with a little more than $30 billion of it going to education. Institutions of higher education will receive $14.3 billion of that total, 10 percent of which will be divided between historically black colleges and universities and grants for small institutions with a variety of needs.

An announcement from Fitch Ratings on Monday said the aid “provides some relief to colleges and universities facing budget pressures — but will not be sufficient to fully compensate for revenue losses and increased expenses.” That echoed a warning from American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell, who recently called the federal assistance to higher education “woefully inadequate.”

Of the many institutions of higher education that will sustain financial hits as a result of the pandemic, historically black colleges and universities are likely to get hit especially hard. These schools have long struggled for sufficient resources despite being an important part of the higher education world in this country, and now things will only get tougher.

The Conversation, a nonprofit and independent website that publishes timely articles about important topics around the world, decided to assemble a panel of three experts on the subject to discuss how HBCUs may be impacted as a result of early closures and financial strains. This was first published by The Conversation, which gave me permission to publish it.

Q: How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting HBCUs?

A: Marybeth Gasman, professor of education at Rutgers University: I am worried about the technology demands on HBCUs, given how few IT specialists many smaller HBCUs have as well as the costs of managing online classes. I’m also worried about students not having access to WiFi at home or laptops — 75 percent of HBCU students are eligible for Pell Grants for students from low- to middle-income families. I’m happy to see some HBCUs — Paul Quinn College, in Dallas, Texas, for example — lending students laptops for the rest of the semester.

HBCUs rely a lot on tuition and have smaller endowments than other schools. If these HBCUs get into financial trouble, they risk losing their accreditation since financial stability is one part of what it takes to remain accredited. Without accreditation, it is nearly impossible to recruit students. Read the full article.