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College students struggle to meet basic needs despite tuition programs in New York

New York has multiple state-run student financial aid programs to ensure the cost of tuition and fees is not a barrier to higher education for economically disadvantaged residents.

However, experts at the state’s colleges and universities, especially minority-serving institutions, said many students struggle to meet their basic needs.

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What do the experts say about the gaps?

According to a recent survey of students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), including in New York, nearly half of respondents had been food insecure in the last 30 days, and more than half had been housing insecure.

Dr. Patricia Ramsey, president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and a biologist, said students need more help to give them the best opportunity to learn.

“We have to do some things that will help these students to be able to be successful, because if you’re in a classroom and your stomach is hungry, it is hard for you to focus on what is going on with the professor,” Ramsey pointed out.

Medgar Evers College is a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI), not an HBCU, which has a federal distinction for institutions established to serve Black students before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. PBIs and other MSIs were established more recently. Medgar Evers College was founded by Black members of the Brooklyn community in 1970.

How much of the problem is funding?

In addition to her current position at Medgar Evers College, Ramsey also has served at multiple HBCUs. She said both HBCUs and MSIs have far less funding than their predominantly white counterparts, and serve far more Pell Grant-eligible students, meaning students qualify for the federal needs-based financial-aid program.

“All of these institutions are under-resourced institutions,” Ramsey explained. “Where most of the wealth exists in this country is not in the Black community. At HBCUs, if you combine all of the institutions together, the endowment is not as large as one institution like Harvard University.”

The report, from the Hope Center and the Virginia Union University Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, noted of the students who reported having trouble meeting basic needs, fewer than half were receiving any public benefits, and just one in five had received help from their college to apply for SNAP, the federal food-assistance program.

The report recommended expanding financial-aid and emergency-aid options for HBCU students.