How Obama's Educational Policies Benefit Blacks
As part of The Root's series about how President Obama's policies affect African Americans, we take a look at the administration's initiatives regarding education.
Barnes also notes that, whether or not states win the grants, just their attempts get the ball rolling on a host of improvements.
"[The grants] have been a catalyst to reform across the country that we think benefits students not just in the winning states but also students elsewhere," she says. "One of the reasons we focus on high goals for all students is because, in the past, in response to the No Child Left Behind Act, we've seen many states lower their standards. It doesn't do students any favors that you've lowered the standard and then told them that they are prepared to move on to the next grade or that they are prepared to go to college when they aren't."
College: Providing Opportunities and the Means to Pay for Them
President Obama has said that he wants the United States producing the most college graduates by 2020. To achieve that goal, he's attempting not only to prepare students for the work ahead of them but also to make it more accessible and affordable.
"For higher education, we've had this focus on not only access but also completion and college graduation," says Barnes.
Though many don't know it, included in the health care reconciliation bill was major higher-education reform that drastically changes the way students borrow money. Dubbed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, the law cuts down on the powers of private lenders and ramps up the government's direct-loan program. It also increases the number of federal Pell Grants offered to students.
"We added about $40 billion to the Pell program," says Barnes, "meaning we're now able to give about 820,000 additional Pell Grant awards, about 200,000 of which will go to African-American students."
Black student borrowers will also stand to benefit from Obama's income-based loan-repayment program. Starting in the year 2014, students who take out loans will have their loan payments capped at 10 percent of their discretionary income. Beyond that, any student who graduates and then goes into public service will have his or her loan completely forgiven after 10 years of payments. Barnes estimates that almost a quarter-million African Americans will be able to benefit from the program between 2014 and 2020.
Elsewhere in the reconciliation bill -- and something that speaks directly to the administration's education goals -- was increased funding for minority-serving institutions, which includes both historically black colleges and universities and predominantly black institutions. Currently, the minority-serving institutions are set to receive $850 million over 10 years.
"This is very important," says Barnes, "because HBCUs and primarily black institutions enroll about 60 percent of minority students who are going to college. We're making sure these institutions have stronger curriculums and better facilities to prepare the leaders of tomorrow."
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.