by Dr. Christopher Davis —
Weeks into the pandemic, staggering data was released suggesting that African Americans were hit harder by COVID-19 than any other racial group in the country. In addition to being disproportionately impacted in our health, we are also impacted in employment, education and even day-to-day living.
Our institutions of higher learning, including LeMoyne-Owen College, have been severely impacted by the immediate need for social distance practices, and while the safety of our students, faculty and staff is top priority, following closely is ensuring that our students continue to engage in coursework remotely and providing support for them to be successful during this time.
I’m happy to share that over the past weeks, the Board of Trustees and College leadership have been working to assess our students’ needs to give them targeted support, and we’ve been successful. Our most impactful strategy, however, has been advocating for student financial assistance. While Lemoyne-Owen College has the lowest tuition rate of any of the Private Colleges across the state of Tennessee, nearly 90 percent of our students qualify for financial aid or currently receive Federal Pell Grants. To fill the gaps, we have applied for several streams of funding, including from the U.S. Department of Education, UNCF, Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and others.
Just last week, the U.S. Department of Education signed the CARES Act to send nearly $600M to HBCUs nationwide. Our partners and friends in the work, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), have lobbied for HBCUs and as a result, distributed funds earmarked for tuition and scholarships to directly benefit students. And, of course, we have received gifts from our dedicated alumni network and friends in the Memphis community.
We’re using those resources to address very specific needs of our students, such as computers, housing, food and technology access, as well as ensuring those who had work study jobs continue to receive pay through the Payroll Protection Act. Our goal is to ensure that our students’ financial needs are met so they can finish this semester successfully and return to school next academic year.
The next phase of work is recovery. We are considering the future, which includes making necessary technology and infrastructure upgrades for blended learning, offering summer courses remotely and creating a comprehensive plan for Fall 2020. Even greater is the need for scholarship dollars to support our current and incoming students, recognizing that some of their families have suffered employment loss.
This pandemic has illuminated an issue that minority institutions and HBCUs, in particular, have historically and presently face: underfunding and a lack of consistent resources. We are grateful for the assistance provided to our institutions and students, but we know it won’t meet every need. To properly address this crisis and its layered economic effects, we simply need more financial aid for students. The UNCF is advocating for additional dollars, and LeMoyne-Owen College, a part of that network, supports this request.
We continue to fortify and advance our institution to serve our students, families and community. In alignment with our short-term goals, we continue to explore innovative practices and policies to retain our current students, boost our enrollment and expand our partnerships.
Although the need is great, the LOC family continues to work together with those invested in providing quality education for our scholars. If you do not currently support an HBCU financially, I encourage you to do so at this pivotal time. We are in a position to strengthen and accelerate what is already a beacon of hope for so many students, and every gift counts. Please consider giving to LeMoyne-Owen College today at www.loccares.org.
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