Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played an important role in ensuring assess to higher education for students of color. These institutions have produced human capital that spans across all sectors of the economy – doctors, engineers, artists, teachers, scientists, and the list goes on. Ensuring that HBCUs come out on the other side of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic better positioned to continue producing high-quality human capital is important to the long-term health and viability of our economy.
Greater support is warranted for HBCUs in this time of chaos and uncertainty created by the COVID19 pandemic. One opportunity to provide increased support is to fully forgive the outstanding loan balance for the HBCU Capital Loan Program. The $2.2 trillion disaster relief aid package (the “CARES Act”) passed by Congress in late March 2020 provides a paltry $62 million in funds to allow for a deferral of debt payments owed by 44 HBCUsparticipating in the HBCU Capital Loan Program. Unfortunately, this much-needed relief aid is insufficient considering the needs of HBCUs pre-COVID19 and now the ongoing economic harm caused by the novel virus, which is expected to hit communities of color particularly hard.
The HBCU Capital Loan Program provides low-interest loans to finance capital improvement initiatives such as the repair, renovation, and construction of classrooms, libraries, laboratories, dormitories, instructional equipment, and research instrumentation at HBCUs. Current outstanding loans provided through the program total around $2 billion.
The federal government continues to demonstrate its willingness to do whatever it seemingly takes to ensure that various sectors of the economy can withstand this pandemic and be positioned to ultimately rebuild and thrive in the years ahead. For example, at least $25 billion in federal disaster aid has been provided for the airline industry, of which 30% of these funds at most will have to be repaid while the remainder can be forgiven. Fully forgiving outstanding HBCU Capital Loan Program debt represents less than ten percent of the federal support provided to this one industry alone.
This opportunity is doable and will help move the ball forward in better positioning our HBCUs for success amid an ever-changing 21st-century landscape. While not a panacea for addressing other contributors to inequity in higher education between HBCUs and historically white institutions, this would certainly be a positive step in the right direction. As such, our government should be willing to take this action for the sake of building a more resilient country and an economy that works for everyone.