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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, the Center for Responsible Lending and University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital.

A 30-minute documentary released today, featuring Rep. 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 under-funded.

Participating panelists were Rep. Alma Adams, (D-NC 12); Derrick Johnson, NAACP CEO; the 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 Rep. 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 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.”

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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