“Fewer Resources, More Debt: Loan Debt Burdens Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” a report by the United Negro College Fund
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Students who graduate from historically black colleges and universities graduate with substantially higher debt than their peers at non-HBCUs, according to a new report published by the United Negro College Fund on Tuesday.

Fewer Resources, More Debt: Loan Debt Burdens Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (pdf), released by UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, “examines the rates, amounts and distribution of student loan debt among HBCU students relative to their non-HBCU peers.” Using the most recent publicly available data, the analysis focuses solely on undergraduates attending four-year public and private nonprofit institutions.

According to UNCF, despite attending lower-cost institutions, HBCU students, many of whom are low-income and first-generation college students, borrow at greater rates, borrow greater amounts, seek loans from more expensive sources and encounter more obstacles repaying their loans.

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UNCF notes that in 2012, 25 percent of HBCU bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed $40,000 or more, which is four times the rate of their non-HBCU peers who borrowed this same amount.

Brian K. Bridges, who leads FDPRI, said that students at HBCUs rely more on student loans.

“When placed into the broader context of the types of students served at HBCUs, the findings of this report help us to better understand the factors that impact HBCU students’ need to borrow and their challenges repaying their loans,” Bridges said. “These factors include racial wealth gaps, declining investments in higher education, unmet financial need, limited institutional resources, and other economic barriers often experienced by African-American students and their families.”

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Bridges notes that despite these challenges, HBCUs continue to be a “best buy” in higher education because they offer comparably lower-cost tuition and disproportionately produce African-American college graduates.

Bridges said that UNCF is doing its part by awarding $100 million each year in need-based student scholarships.

“Now the country must invest so that HBCU students can earn their degrees with more resources and less debt,” Bridges said.

Cheryl Smith, UNCF senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, is urging the new presidential administration and Congress to reinvest in higher education and improve federal financial aid policies so that low-income and minority students can earn degrees with less debt.

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The report makes the following four broad recommendations for policymakers:

  1. Reduce the complexity of the federal student-aid-eligibility process to reach more low-income students and provide more grant aid for those with need.
  2. Reduce the need for low-income students to borrow loans by increasing grant aid and work-study opportunities.
  3. Make federal loans less costly for students and their families.
  4. Ensure that the federal student-loan-servicing system serves students well and that the student-loan-repayment process is manageable, effective and efficient.

“Recently, some analysts have questioned whether the student debt crisis is real. For HBCU students, who increasingly are on the hook for financing college costs, the crisis is ever so real,” Smith said. “Congress and the next administration have an opportunity with the renewal of the Higher Education Act to lessen the financial load.”

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Read more at the United Negro College Fund.