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After nearly a century of educating Black students, Concordia College in Selma, Alabama announced on Wednesday that it will cease operations at the end of the spring semester.

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“It was the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my 50 years of higher education,” Dr. James Lyons, the interim president of Concordia, told the Selma Times Journal, adding that the students “were quite shocked” by the news.

Like Concordia, many of the more than 100 HBCUs across the nation have dire financial problems, partly because operating costs are increasing while enrollment and financial aid decrease. Students at HBCUs are disproportionately low-income. About 70 percent of all HBCU students rely on federal grants and work-study programs to finance their education at a time when the Trump administration seeks ways to cut higher education funding.

Concordia, which opened in 1922, needed a minimum of $8 million to pay its debts and keep the doors open for at least one year—just enough money to buy time to find major investors. “It’s very difficult to operate an institution with the lowest possible tuition and fees when you are faced with escalating costs,” Lyons stated.

HBCUs are worth fighting for because, despite the challenges, they educate scores of Black students who would otherwise not attend college. These institutions accept scores of “at risk” students who need remedial academic work after graduating from public school systems that failed to educate them. Although they represent just 3 percent of all colleges and universities, HBCUs graduate more than 20 percent of Black college students and a disproportionately higher percentage of students who earn STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees, compared to majority White institutions.

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Keshia Knight Pulliam, Spelman College
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