The 5 reasons Black leaders want loan debt eliminated, better funding for HBCUs

Will the $1.75 trillion social spending plan do enough to meet student needs or fall short of goals?
By: | November 10, 2021
Photo courtesy of Morgan State University

Black students overwhelmingly want loan debt canceled and other policies changed to end the systemic, oppressive cycle that often leaves them financially behind white counterparts, according to a new report from a coalition of advocates that includes the United Negro College Fund and the Center for Responsible Lending.

Around 90% of the 1,900 students polled say policymakers must create mechanisms to level that debt and boost financial assistance, including infusing more capital into Historically Black Colleges and Universities, whose resources and infrastructures are laboring amid historic underfunding.

While the Biden Administration has been receptive to their needs, Democrats have made sizeable reductions to the now $1.75 trillion proposed social spending plan, which directly affect HBCUs. As it stands, those institutions would receive a collective $2 billion, transformational but still short of goals. A slight boost to the Pell Grant program would give students a nominal $550 boost at maximum, not double the $6,495 many had been hoping for.

The equation for Black students, who often have to take care of others and have been burdened further by the COVID-19 pandemic, doesn’t balance out when compared with other groups.

“There is a large gap between how black students experience student debt vs. how the rest of the world understands student borrowers and their ability to get to repayment status,” said Dr. Nadrea Njoku, interim director, Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, UNCF. “Black students often need to use borrowed funds to help their families—not to just complete their educations as intended. This delays their ability to not only complete their degrees, but it creates a vicious cycle they may not escape from needing to work and help their families while at the same time needing to finish an education that would ultimately benefit them and their families.”

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Center for Community Capital and African American Research Collaborative at UNCF helped put together the study that was funded by the Lumina Foundation. They helped create a documentary film called “My Yard, My Debt: The HBCU Student Borrower Experience” that highlights the disparities among students and HBCUs vs. predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). They also held a Facebook Live forum with several dignitaries, including Congresswoman Alma Adams, (D-NC 12) and NAACP chief executive Derrick Johnson.

Adams, the founder of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, noted that the long struggles to achieve equity still aren’t occurring for students, especially those at the 100-plus institutions where many matriculate.

“The history of HBCUs is one of triumph over adversity. Our institutions have had to overcome historic underfunding compared to PWIs and they’ve endured the legacy of Jim Crow,” she said. “Unfortunately, the student loan debt crisis also plays an outsized role in the lives of HBCU students, many of whom are the first in their family to fill out the FAFSA form. Families of color are more likely to borrow and to borrow more and in higher amounts to finance their education. While the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis impacts 44 million families nationwide, the burden falls heavily on Black students. That is why I support canceling burdensome debt for our students. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good public policy.”

Those leaders point to five reasons why those massive debts should be lifted, though it is unclear whether those burdens would be paid or be simply forgiven. From the survey:

  • About 10% more Black students at HBCUs got emergency aid during the pandemic than colleagues at PWIs
  • More Black students at HBCUs have been stressed during the pandemic than those who attend PWIs
  • While Black students are incurring debt, more than one-quarter of their parents are going into debt as well to pay for their college
  • 44% of Black students at HBCUs say they are skipping meals because of a lack of money. That is 15% more than those who attend PWIs
  • Black women receive far less financial support than men from their families and often can’t make loan payments as frequently once they’ve completed their studies

Aside from the removal of debt, doubling the Pell Grant and improving funding for HBCUs, the coalition would like to see better “income-driven repayment programs,” the reduction of interest and elimination of origination fees on federal loans.

“The recommendations in this study help move the focus of college financing from getting a college education with an unwarranted lifetime financial burden that cripples students and their families to a place where students receive the freedoms and social mobility they were seeking from the start,” Njoku said. “These students need to be at the forefront of the line to cancel the burdensome debt.”

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