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Majority of Black College Students Support Loan Cancellation, as Underfunding of HBCUs Compounds Financial Challenges

Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Jaylon Herbin
Julia Barnard

New research and documentary film illuminate heavy debt burdens and financial struggles of Black graduates of HBCUs

WASHINGTON, DC (Nov. 9, 2021) — More than 87% of Black students who attend historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) strongly support debt cancellation. In addition, more than 90% of Black borrowers support other policy solutions to address the institutional funding disparities and lack of family wealth that leave Black HBCU graduates with significantly higher student loan debt burdens than their White peers, according to a national study and focus groups conducted by UNCF (United Negro College Fund), the Center for Responsible Lending and UNC Center for Community Capital.

A 16-minute documentary released today, featuring Congresswoman Alma Adams, student debt policy experts and HBCU alumnae borrowers brings to life the burdens borne by HBCU alumnae, who find great value in their college experiences but suffer from heavier debt burdens. Historic and ongoing systemic racism mean these students have less family wealth to draw on, and HBCUs are historically underfunded.

View “My Yard, My Debt: The HBCU Student Borrower Experience.”

A panel of stakeholders discussed key findings of the study and research via Facebook Live.

Participating panelists were Rep. Alma Adams, (D-NC 12); Derrick Johnson, NAACP CEO; Rev. Cassandra Gould, executive director, Missouri Faith Voices; Ashley Harrington, federal student aid senior advisor; and Robert Stephens, policy director, Voices for Progress. The panel was moderated by Center for Responsible Lending Outreach Associate Jaylon Herbin.

Funded by Lumina Foundation, the study compares the financial experiences of current and former black students attending HBCUs with their Black peers at Predominately White institutions (PWIs), as well as with their White peers.

“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, said Congresswoman Adams, 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 cancelling burdensome debt for our students: it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also good public policy.”

“The work that UNCF and CRL have done via this study is vital. 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. Black students often need to use borrowed funds to help their families—not to just complete their educations as intended,” said Dr. Nadrea Njoku, interim director, Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, UNCF. “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 recommendations made by the students included in this study helps 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. These students come from underserved backgrounds and need to be at the forefront of the line to cancel burdensome debt.”

Some key findings of the survey are:

  • HBCUs stepped up to support their students during COVID-19. Nearly one-third of Black students at HBCUs (31%) received emergency aid from their institution, compared to about one-fifth of Black students at PWIs (21%) and even fewer White students (18%).
  • Black borrowers receive and provide financial assistance from/to their families. Research has established that students at HBCUs typically graduate with substantially higher debt than their peers at non-HBCUs, and this data suggests that they share financial resources with their families during college, by both receiving financial support and by giving it, at times.
  • Many student borrowers report skipping meals because there wasn’t enough money for food, including 29% of Black students at PWIs and 44% at HBCUs.
  • Black women receive less financial support from family during college compared to Black men, and they tend to struggle more than their male counterparts during repayment.
  • Black respondents indicate overwhelming support for $50,000 in across-the-board student loan cancellation. A strong majority (85%) of Black borrowers indicated strong support for student loan cancellation. More than nine out of 10 Black respondents also support eliminating interest payments for all student loans, increasing state funding for HBCUs, increasing the amount of the Pell Grant, and cancellation for people who were defrauded by their institutions.

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

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About Lumina
Foundation Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Our mission is to prepare people for informed citizenship and success in a global economy.

About Center for Community Capital at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Center for Community Capital is a non-partisan, multi-disciplinary research center housed within the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a leading center for research and policy analysis on the power of financial capital to transform households and communities in the United States. The Center’s in-depth analyses help policymakers, advocates and the private sector find sustainable ways to expand economic opportunity to more people, more effectively.

About CRL
The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) works to ensure a fair, inclusive financial marketplace that creates opportunities for all credit-worthy borrowers, regardless of their income, because too many hard-working people are deceived by dishonest and harmful practices. CRL’s work focuses on those who may be marginalized or underserved by the existing financial marketplace, or in many cases, people who are targeted for unfair and abusive financial products that leave them worse off. This includes people of color, women, rural residents and low-wealth families and communities.

About UNCF
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, supports and strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically Black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding nearly 20% of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at over 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized trademark, ‟A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at UNCF.org or for continuous updates and news, follow UNCF on Twitter at @UNCF.