HBCU Students Seek More Avenues for Funding

Audia Cook, a sophomore at Hampton University (No. 4 on the Black Enterprise Top 50 Colleges for African Americans list), passed up an opportunity to apply for an internship this summer as a pharmaceuticals sales representative with Blue Care Network of Michigan. She says waitressing will allow her a better chance to enroll next fall.

“Every year that I’ve attended Hampton, I’ve been late with my [tuition]. I’ve always had to register late. I’m going to be working this summer because I don’t want to go through what I had to go through with financial aid again,” says Cook, a pharmacy major from Detroit.

Despite working 36 hours a week at two jobs during the school year and borrowing money from friends and family, Cook still owed about $2,500 dollars at the beginning of her freshman and sophomore years. She says the stress of trying to stay in school caused her GPA to slip. Her plan is to save $1,000 dollars over the summer in case funds are still needed when her Pell Grant and loans aren’t enough.

According to a report, “Contemporary HBCUs: Considering Institutional Capacity and State Priorities,”  more than 70% of students who attend historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are classified as low income. Over the past couple of months, the economic climate has caused them additional strain. For example, 91% of Fisk University (No. 8 on the Top Colleges list) students receive some form of financial aid, and as a result of the country’s economic crisis, 11% of students at Fisk have withdrawn since August 2008.

“Seventy-five percent of those kids left because of funding issues,” says Hazel O’ Leary, president of Fisk and former U.S. Secretary of Energy.

Tuition, along with donations, make up the largest share of a school’s revenue base. Fisk, like many schools, has had to resort to budget cuts, but because HBCUs have fewer resources, the loss in scholarship money can be detrimental for students.

More help is coming from the federal government. President Barack Obama proposed a $2,500 American Opportunities Tax Credit, which allows students from low-income families who do not pay taxes to receive aid for college. Congress voted to increase Title III funding dedicated for public and private HBCUs by $85 million for the 2009 fiscal year. Obama wants to increase Pell grants to $5,550 for fiscal year 2010, up $200 from fiscal year 2009, while ending subsidized loans. Pell Grants are the only source of federal money students do not have to pay back.

This spring, for the first time in a few years, enrollment at Alabama A&M University increased.  “We think that students who were not able to come back in the fall came back in the spring,” says Juarine Stewart, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at the school. Stewart attributes the spring enrollment increase to an increase in Pell grant allotments.

But Hasan Jamil, assistant vice president of enrollment management at Texas Southern University, says that since Pell grants don’t cover 100% of tuition and fees, low-income students have to depend on loans. “People still have to rely on borrowing money whether it is from Uncle Sam or Bank of America,” he says.