HBCU Student Debt (Part 1)

with Dr. Krystal Williams, a Senior Research Associate at the United Negro College Fund

National Education

African American students enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities are left in significantly higher debt than peers attending non-HBCUs. Why is this the case and what are some possible solutions to lower the financial burden? Part 1 of a discussion with Dr. Krystal Williams, a Senior Research Associate at the United Negro College Fund.  This discussion continues in part 2 (HBCU Student Debt).

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See a partial transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: According to a recent report by the United Negro College Fund, African-American students enrolled in historically black college and universities graduate with substantially higher debt than their peers attending non-historically black schools. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Joining me is Dr. Krystal Williams, a senior research associate at the United Negro College Fund. Dr. Williams, welcome to the program.

Williams: Thank you for having me.

Traynham: You know, what I just said a few moments ago I think is good news and really bad news. The good news is, based on your research, a lot of first-generation people of color are going to school. The bad news is that because of the lack of family wealth, perhaps maybe because since they´re first-generation, they have to take out a lot of loans, they´re graduating with a lot of debt. So it appears, based on when you compare that to their white counterparts. So, it appears that when a person graduates from college, from an HBCU, they already have one chain wrapped around their ankle.

Williams: Absolutely. Unfortunately, that is the case. We are finding that students who graduate from HBCUs are graduating with an average of $11,000 more in student debt, despite the fact that if you compare publics to publics and privates to privates, that HBCUs are, in fact, actually cheaper to attend, so it is unfortunate that we are seeing these types of patterns.

Traynham: How do we break the cycle, Dr. Williams?

Williams: How do we break the cycle? That´s the million-dollar question, quite honestly. If I had all the answer, then I could probably be the Department of Education Secretary.

Traynham: Well, because the reason why I ask the question, and I’m a product of an HBCU, and I believe most HBCUs are cheaper than their white counterparts.

Williams: They are.

Traynham: So one could make the argument that you should have lesser debt, but that´s not the case in many ways.

Williams: Right, it´s not the case because, as you said before, a number of the students do come from lower-income families, so we´re finding that about 70% of students are students who come from low-income backgrounds. To speak more to the solutions, which is something that we do highlight in terms of policy recommendations, one of the things that we really advocate for is increasing the amount of grant aid that´s available to students.

Traynham: This is federal grant aid.

Williams: Federal grant aid that´s available to students, as well as increasing the amount of federal work study that´s available to students, which would thereby alleviate their need to borrow as much as their borrowing now.

Traynham: And, Dr. Williams, the federal grant aid as I understand it, is that income-based, or is that university-based?

Williams: So, it´s based upon families´ income, as well as the cost of college, as well.

Traynham: And then to your second point about work study. Is that giving universities more federal money so that they can pay for students to get more jobs on campus? Is that how that works?

Williams: Exactly. Exactly. And there´s a matching process, too, so generally, when the federal government gives money for work studies, then the state has to match it to a certain degree.

Traynham: I understand. Another thing that we should mention, which, unfortunately, plagues a lot of HBCU campuses, they simply do not have the endowments that their white counterparts have, and so what that means, as I understand it, is they´re not able to discount their tuition for a lot of students, as well. So it seems like it´s just a perfect storm.

Williams: It is.