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Go to college but be sure to graduate

Bethanie Fisher’s story highlights a growing problem in Black America — improving graduation rates for Black students. College graduation, even with growing mounds of student loan debt, is still one of the better predictors for one’s economic success. Yet, college graduation remains elusive for many Black students. College can actually be detrimental if students accumulate debt but do not graduate.

First, a large number of Black Americans are already concentrated in “low-achieving” school districts. Schools for Black children are increasingly subject to closure and entire school systems have been dismantled by reform policies that have further diminished Black students aptitude as measured by standardized tests. This is the first hit against Black students because once they get to college they are often funneled into remedial classes or get low grades. More often than not, because of these challenges, they will not graduate or have to spend more time in college, escalating college debt.

Today, Black students graduate with more student loan debt than any other group. This debt cannot be erased by bankruptcy.

Overall, Blacks students are more likely to depend on financial aid and college debt. In 2010, 27 percent of Black students graduated with debt of more than $30,000 compared to 16 percent of white students. Increasingly, colleges are asking parents to also take on debt for students upwards of $15,000 a year.

Black students are vulnerable because of most the reasons of which we would think. Poorer, Black students often commute, work and do not have families that are able to provide significant financial support. Life events — sickness, unemployment, poor credit or other setbacks — impact the family’s ability to pay. This reality weighs on Black students and is often the reason students have to take a semester off or don’t return.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have an impressive track record in graduating Black students; however, new loan policies are harming not just the students, but also these institutions. So many parents focus on getting their children to college but fail to understand that the true work may be in making sure the student graduates. Colleges that accept students have no obligation to make sure the student actually graduates.

Furthermore, a college education — in this economy — also does not guarantee a job, especially for African Americans, who are typically the last hired, first fired and earn less than their peers.

Some question educating your child for a job and instead encourage them to start a business in their community. Also, community college is an increasingly viable and affordable option for students. Regardless, students and parents should be focused, responsible and understand the financial commitment because the debt without the degree is a financial setback. Policymakers on the local and national level have to be focused on making college affordable by increasing Pell Grants and reevaluating the PLUS loans. We need to be informed about the competitive and often hostile environment college and the loan industry can be for our children.


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