Public historically Black colleges and universities around the country have faced a range of on-campus housing challenges in recent years.
Kentucky State University ran out of space on campus last year, although the situation has improved. North Carolina A&T, Tennessee State University, and Morgan State University have previously placed students in hotels off campus. Universities have also struggled with aging buildings and infrastructure.
Several universities are now taking steps to improve the situation on their campuses. And, addressing these problems matters, because students at HBCUs are already at a higher risk of housing insecurity. A 2022 study of HBCUs from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University found that 55% of respondents lacked a stable, safe place to live at some point in the prior year.
Florida A&M University has shuttered several aging dormitories, the Tallahassee Democrat has previously reported. Last year, officials told more than 500 incoming freshmen that the campus was out of beds for them. While the backlog is better now, the challenges have discouraged students.
Sophomore Cameron Rismay lives in an apartment-style residence hall on FAMU’s campus. Shortly after he moved in last year, a pest infestation forced him and several hundred other students to temporarily move into nearby hotels.
“We had to risk leaving things behind because we couldn’t pack everything and ran the risk of losing valuable items or having them lost or possibly stolen,” he said. Things have gone well so far this year, he said.
Last spring, the university’s board approved a massive $238 million initiative to build several new residence halls and add thousands of beds to campus.
Jennifer Wilder, FAMU’s housing director, said she is eager “to continue diminishing the current issues we are dealing with in terms of housing.” The university is aiming to add new housing units and replace aging buildings, she said.
Malayah Iyamu is a FAMU student living off-campus, as she couldn’t find an on-campus option. The California native doesn’t have a car, so to get to class she relies on Ubers, as well as rides from classmates.
“I feel people who live on campus are closer to their instructors and have more opportunities offered to them,” said Iyamu, who lives in a complex 15 minutes from campus.
New residence halls in the works
Kentucky State University is also working to improve its on-campus housing options. Long term, officials are evaluating each of the residence halls for renovations, Stephanie Mayberry, interim vice provost of student affairs, wrote in an email.
The university closed Combs Hall for renovations at the start of the fall semester and will reopen it in January 2025. Chandler Hall will close for renovations this summer.
The university hasn’t run out of space on campus this year, but “as we continue to grow enrollment, our team is actively exploring housing options in the event we reach capacity in the future,” Mayberry wrote in an email.
HBCUs are dealing with years of underfunding from state governments, which has hampered progress on housing issues.
The Biden administration has been calling attention to this issue, highlighting the $12.6 billion funding disparity between HBCUs and PWIs and calling on governors to increase funding to public HBCUs.
Without sufficient funding, HBCUs will struggle to serve the needs of their communities, said Travis Smith, an assistant professor of higher education administration at Auburn University and an Alabama State University alumnus.
Over the summer, FAMU students filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida detailing how the university has been underfunded for decades and how it has affected students, the academic community, and potential opportunities for more stability. Students at multiple public HBCUs in Georgia have made similar allegations against the state.
“This isn’t new to any HBCU in general when it comes to underfunding, as it’s always been an issue,” said Wilder, FAMU’s housing director. “We are held to a different standard than our counterparts of other institutions who receive more than enough funding and support.”
The late Harold Love Sr., an alumnus of Tennessee State University and former state representative, discovered in 1970 the lengthy history of TSU’s underfunding and put together a committee to investigate its genesis. Harold Love Sr. died in 1996.
Love’s son, Harold, Jr., is a Tennessee State University alumnus and a Democrat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. He presides over the part of the state that includes his alma mater.
When it comes to universities getting the funding they need for housing and other projects, often lobbying the state legislature is the best course of action, he said.
Then, Love said, “you have a chance to have a committee investigate the causes of the underfunding and the degree to which the underfunding affected the university in light such as scholarships, salaries, endowment levels, building maintenance, and academic programs.”