Newswire: College loan debt hits a Black students at HBCUs harder 87% favor cancellation; 90% for wealth inequity fix

NC A &T University and students

by Herbert L. White, Charlotte Post

Nearly 9 in 10 Black students attending historically Black colleges and universities favor debt cancellation, according to a study conducted by education and lending advocacy groups. 

Eighty-seven percent of respondents strongly support debt cancellation while more than 90% of Black borrowers support policies that address institutional funding disparities and family wealth gaps that leave Black HBCU graduates with higher student loan debt than their white peers, according to the survey and focus groups conducted by UNCF, the Durham-based Center for Responsible Lending and UNC Center for Community Capital.

A panel of stakeholders that included U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte; NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson; federal student aid senior advisor Ashley Harrington and Robert Stephens, policy director at Voices for Progress discussed findings of the study and research on a virtual forum. 

“The history of HBCUs is one of triumph over adversity. Our institutions have had to overcome historic underfunding compared to (predominantly white institutions), and they’ve endured the legacy of Jim Crow,” said Adams, a Democrat who is founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus. “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, it’s also good public policy.” 

The study, which was funded by Lumina Foundation, compared the financial experiences of current and former Black HBCU students with their Black peers at PWIs, as well as with their white peers.

Among the survey’s findings:

• Black colleges extended themselves to supporting their students during COVID-19. Thirty-one percent of Black students at HBCUs received emergency aid from school, compared to about 21% of Black students at PWIs and 18% of white students.

• Black borrowers receive and provide financial assistance from or to their families. Research found that HBCU students typically graduate with substantially higher debt than their peers at non-HBCUs, which suggests they share financial resources with their families during college, by both receiving financial support and by giving it, at times.

• Food insecurity is an issue on college campuses. Student borrowers report skipping meals because there wasn’t enough money for food, including 44% of Black students at HBCUs and 29% at PWIs.

• Black women receive less financial support from family during their college matriculation compared to Black men and tend to struggle more to repay debt.

• Black respondents report overwhelming support for $50,000 across-the-board student loan forgiveness. Eighty-five percent of Black borrowers indicated strong support for student loan cancellation and more than nine out of 10 respondents favor the elimination of interest payments for all student loans. They also back increasing state funding for HBCUs, increasing the amount of Pell Grant, and cancellation of debt for people who were defrauded by their schools.
“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 Nadrea Njoku, interim director at UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. “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.”

Joint policy recommendations by UNCF and CRL include wiping out student debt across the board; increasing federal funding for HBCUs; increasing the amount of the Pell Grant; improving income-driven repayment programs; reduce interest, eliminate interest capitalization and cancel origination fees on federal student loans.

“The recommendations made by the students included 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 come from underserved backgrounds and need to be at the forefront of the line to cancel the burdensome debt.”

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