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At HBCUs, reducing student loans is a symptom of even greater problems



When Michael Sorrell became president of Paul Quinn College 12 years ago, he estimated the plight of his school and made a bold decision: no more football.

"I mean, we're in Texas. We are an HBCU in Texas, "said Sorrell. "I have a little flak for that, okay?"

But for him, shutting down the program was the only way to free the historically black college, founded in 1872 by a group of preachers from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of slaves and their children.

Football cost the Dallas School about $ 600,000 to $ 1

million a year, and scholarships went mainly to the players. Meanwhile, other students fought, faculty and staff went and buildings fell into disrepair.

"We were about 18-24 months away from the closure, we had financial problems, we had academic problems, we had moral issues, and it was the prototypical scenario for an institution that had problems for a long time and the end of the He said in a telephone interview to NBC News.

The challenges facing Paul Quinn College are not unique, experts said, even though its solution was unique.

As the billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith last month put the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) at the center of national interest, promising to slash up to $ 40 million in student loans for Morehouse College's nearly 400 graduates, his gift was considered historic and probably life-changing for these students.

But the loan debt of the Stude nts is just a symptom of a systemic problem that goes back to school According to Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on HBCUs,

"When these institutions were founded, they were not equated with historically white institutions," she said. "So, what happens is basically that the majority of (white) institutions are getting richer, because wealth creates wealth and the HBCUs lag behind."

HBCUs were founded and subsidized by states, the federal government. Philanthropists or churches to train black Americans who were forbidden to attend white colleges by majority. However, in recent years, financial problems, among others, have pushed a number of schools to the verge of closure or jeopardized their accreditation. And, as there are not large funds available for generous scholarships compared to many non-HBCUs, much of the burden on students may depend on substantial loans to compensate for aid gaps.

According to Gasman, more than 70 percent of HBCU participants rely on HBCUs on federal Pell Grants, which provides assistance to students facing financial hardship. But for these students, there is usually still a gap between the Pell Grant money and the help that the school offers – loans come into play here.

Student borrowers owe nearly $ 1.5 trillion of student loans nationwide. If the race is included, black college graduates owe an average of $ 7,400 more than their white counterparts, and that number will triple from $ 25,000 over the next few years, according to the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC rise -based think tank.

A 2016 United Negro College Fund (UNCF) report also found that a higher percentage of HBCU students (80 percent) used federal funding to fund college than 55 percent of students who did not attend HBCU. It was also found that a higher percentage of students at HBCUs (12 percent) combined federal, state and private loans to fund their education, compared with 8 percent of non-HBCU students.

HBCU students also lend more money and are more likely According to Gasman, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell is posing with students in Dallas, Texas on May 4, 2019. Roberto Hernandez / Paul Quinn College

"So if we could invest more in HBCUs, they could get more institutional support," Gasman said, pointing to the funding imbalances between federal and state governments HBCU has received equal and consistent access to federal funds – although dependence on state funds has its shortcomings called Title III funding to partially offset past discrimination in higher education. The states also provide funding for some of these institutions. However, these sources of funding were not stable due to unequal state financing and largely stagnant federal funding.

Democrat Sens. Kamala Harris of California, who visited the historically black Howard University, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have proposed plans to increase HBCU funding for the 2020 campaign. Warren has one of the boldest companies to propose an unprecedented $ 50 billion investment in HBCUs.

Victor Santos, director of government relations at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said these plans are admirable, but HBCUs need a long-term financing solution

UNCF researchers expressed these concerns in a report for the American Council on Education at the beginning of this Year in which they found that HBCUs are more dependent on federal, state and local dollars than their counterparts. For example, these resources account for 54 percent of revenue at HBCUs, compared to 38 percent at other colleges and universities. For this reason, the report says, HBCUs are particularly "vulnerable to economic slumps, government exit from higher education, or policy changes."

Santos said one way in which the government could help HBCUs was to control federal research contracts on many of them. These schools, which could spend a lot of money not only to support the students but also for the school's infrastructure to ensure long-term sustainability.

"With Title III, basically, we are doing something to keep the house clean outside. Basically we can keep the doors open with this money, but we need some money to build a stronger foundation.

We need some research funding to help us push ourselves. Because as soon as we get that, we can start building new floors on the house. We can add new bedrooms. What Title III does is to turn on the lights and keep us going.

Ivory Toldson, a professor at Howard University, agreed. He heads the Quality Education for Minorities group, which aims to eliminate the differences in research funding. Johns Hopkins University received more research funding than all HBCUs combined.

"We know that HBCUs, if they can build their research facilities, not only earn more money for their research, but can also lead to things like patents. But they could also bring more knowledge to our society, "he said.

Entrance sign of Paul Quinn College. Roberto Hernandez / Paul Quinn College

At Paul Quinn College, 85 percent of the students rely on Pell Grants, and 70 percent of students have no expected family contributions, with tuition fees on campus for a bachelor's degree about $ 15,500 Year.

"They take out loans because their families have less money and in their communities," said Sorrell, the college's president. "Part of the reason why there is less money is that they have been dealing with systemic inequalities all their lives."

The school had a six-figure surplus for most of their term of office, Sorrell said, enabling the school to open new buildings, turn over their enrollment numbers, and support their students and faculty. The football field is now an organic farm, and Sorrell said he has no plans to resume the program.

He said he now focuses more on the academic and financial stability of the school.

"If you have given your heart and soul and time for an institution that fails, you suffer great repentance and great grief, but that does not mean that you give up, but you just breathe, you find another way" , he said.


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