Georgia HBCUs expecting financial blow from COVID-19 pandemic

Concerns about the fall school year are rearing their heads as Georgia colleges begin wrapping up an unexpected online semester, and there's increasing worry over historically black colleges and their finances.

The president of Clark Atlanta University told FOX 5 he anticipates a financial blow to the school but not because of smaller endowments, like what is widely believed.

President Georgia French says fewer students will likely enroll, but they'll be back as soon as they can safely return.

"We will have challenges for sure. I'm feeling pretty good that HBCUs will get past this," French said.

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He said the colleges and universities' vibrant culture will always bring students to campus.

And recent graduates agree.

"An HBCU just feels like home," Clark Atlanta senior Jaylon Rhodes says. "You want to come back for homecoming.

But French says COVID-19 may prevent well-known aspects of campus life from happening in the fall.

"One of my consultants says 48 percent of prospective freshmen may defer to the spring semester, but the thing is they'll still wind up coming," he says.

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That's the hope.

Sending students home for their safety during the pandemic also dashed room and board fees with a quick shift to online learning bringing additional costs for the colleges.

French says the school stepped in to help in a variety of ways, from flying students back home, paying for gas to get there, or taking up technological fees, like paying for students' laptops.

Clark Atlanta student Parris Walton's computer broke on campus right before she battled COVID-19.

Thankfully, she says the school stepped in.

"It's because an HBCU is like a family not like 'student number 7," she said. 

All schools faced financial strains, but there's growing concern that HBCU's smaller endowments or financial assets won't block further financial blows the virus might cause.

French says that's not his concern because HBCU's don't often dip into their endowments for daily operations.

Instead, he says he encourages hopeful HBCU students to do what they can to enroll in their dream schools of choice when it's safe to do so.