HBCU Enrollment is on the Rise. But On-Campus Housing is Scarce. Black College Students Demand Solutions
According to a recent New York Times article, Black students across the nation have been flocking to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to find a college experience that feels like home. However, students are struggling to feel at home when there is no on-campus roof over their heads.
HBCUs were founded after the Civil War during the era of segregation and Jim Crow. When Black students were barred from attending White colleges, HBCUs provided a pathway to higher education and social mobility. Historically, there has been a lack of investment in HBCUs by state and federal policymakers; and although there have been recent investments by the Biden administration and private donors like Mackenzie Scott, it is not enough to make up for the decades of neglect. And HBCUs are important. While HBCUs only represent 9% of college enrollment nationwide, they’re responsible for 1 out of every 5 Black college graduates overall. It’s no wonder many of this generation’s top talent are choosing an HBCU.
I am one of them. Like many students, after attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and witnessing social and racial strife in the political realm and in the classroom, I transferred to Xavier University of Louisiana to feel seen and to belong. At an HBCU, students can find people with diverse experiences and backgrounds that are all uniquely Black and proud.
With the rise in HBCU enrollment, policymakers and PWIs have begun acknowledging the role HBCUs play, but Black colleges still operate at a disadvantage in terms of funding and resources. The current HBCU housing crisis reflects this lack of funding as college students, particularly juniors and seniors, struggle to find housing for the coming semester. While housing issues are not unique to HBCUs, they are particularly pronounced due to having older buildings and their funding being caught up in political games.
Just like PWIs, HBCUs are seeing a surge in demand for on-campus housing, leading to at-capacity housing for schools such as Florida A&M University. “Due to overwhelming interest in attending Florida A&M University, and the desire of new and returning students to reside on campus, we have reached our capacity in housing,” said William E. Hudson, Ph.D., vice president for Student Affairs.
As HBCU enrollment across the nation increases, universities prioritize incoming students for housing, leading to a higher demand for on-campus housing. Meanwhile, inflation has made off-campus options unattractive, if not inaccessible. Some view over-admission of students as an issue itself. “They’re trying to have so many kids and make the school bigger,” said Omaria Ackerson, a sophomore at Xavier University of Louisiana who has experienced housing issues. “But it’s costing kids their livelihoods.”
Even prior to the housing crisis, HBCU students have struggled with basic needs insecurity. A survey of students from both public and private institutions by The Hope Center and the Center for the Study of HBCUs found that 2 out of 3 HBCU students experienced basic needs insecurity, and 55% were housing insecure in the prior 12 months.
In addition to a lack of housing, the dorms available are often run-down and in bad condition. Recall the Blackburn Takeover of October 2021 at Howard University, when students protested their living conditions—reporting bursting pipes, rat and mold infestations, and mushrooms growing on the walls.
With the fall semester quickly approaching, many HBCU students are facing homelessness. It is hard to understate the crisis that students are facing, and although action is urgently needed, there seems to be no solution in sight.
“I know I’m not the only one in this position because there are hundreds of students who still don’t have housing,” said David Essien, a student at North Carolina A&T University, who has yet to find housing for the fall. “They’re not accommodating their students.”
Expanding housing is a top priority demand for HBCU students. However, expanding college housing is not without its complications. Typically, universities in downtown urban areas can lead to gentrification and the displacement of residents.
“Kicking people out and making them lose their connections to their livelihoods just doesn’t match with Xavier University’s values,” commented Ackerson on Xavier’s unique location in the middle of a low-income, predominantly Black neighborhood. Expanding housing has the potential to push the residents out.
Gentrification also makes off-campus housing unaffordable and pushes students out. In North Nashville, Fisk University and Tennessee State University students were able to rent apartments off-campus for many years, but, recently, the migration of White urbanites into North Nashville has raised the costs of housing and pushed residents and HBCU students out.
HBCUs need funding to expand their housing and ensure the well-being of their students. Within the Black community, HBCUs contribute to social mobility and student success. In addition, HBCU graduates earn more in their lifetime than they would without their HBCU degree. With increased investments in HBCUs, securing student housing will ensure that Black graduation rates will continue to rise.
It is imperative that state and federal policymakers invest in HBCUs through increasing annual proportions allotted to Black colleges via the Higher Education Act (HEA). In addition, HBCU administrations must invest those funds in creating new on-campus housing options and renovating ones that are outdated.
For Black students, HBCUs are a home away from home where they can be stimulated culturally and intellectually while realizing the American Dream. Providing housing creates a safe space where they can build their success. More must be done to secure students’ basic needs on their journey toward a college degree.
Yemisi Badmus is a summer 2022 communications intern at Ed Trust.