|Beyonce at Coachella|
By Brenda Alexander
Following the hysteria and backlash from across the nation regarding the allegations that a Howard University law student embezzled upwards of $400,000 during his work study at the university’s financial aid office, I was impressed to see Beyonce’s new scholarship fund for prospective HBCU attendees. Not that she’s the first to establish a college fund or donate to a historically black college or university, but her recent (and phenomenal) Coachella performance has ignited pride and long overdue attention to HBCU’s and hopefully, attracts more big-time donations, as it is needed.
Many who completed college will tell you that it’s the most expensive yet greatest financial investment ever made. The loans and subsequent deferments post graduation have cost me much anxiety since graduating 5 years ago. Although college is an experience I’ll never trade and one I encourage all to do, I would be lying if I said that the financial burden oftentimes made me wonder was it worth it. Many friends have felt similar sentiments and through conversations, I have noticed a major difference in the amount of student loan debt my friends who attended HBCU’s versus PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions) incurred.
I applied to about 10 colleges – all were HBCU’s. My lifelong dream included living like the cast of “A Different World,” stomping the yard with my sorority sisters and of course being a part of the band like in “Drumline” (I took up the trumpet in high school for that very reason). I was accepted into a few and chose Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC and was on my way.
|Me and my JCSU roommate freshman year|
As a first gen student, I completed all of the financial aid paperwork myself. My mom signed off on everything as my parents weren’t familiar with the process. When we arrived on campus to settle into my dorm, we were assigned to speak to a financial aid officer and go over the terms of my award. Prior to getting there, I was under the impression that my first year was paid for. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true. My mom ended up taking out an additional $18k in a parent plus loan to assist in making my HBCU dream come true. My freshman year alone, I racked up $30k in student loans. Financial burdens and other things I felt the university lacked, I transferred to a public university and finished out the remainder of my collegiate career at Temple University (which I loved #TempleMade). My student loan debt tallied up to about $45k. 85% of my student loan debt came from one year spent at an HBCU, and I’m not alone in this experience.
According to a study done by the United Negro College Fund in 2016, students who attend HBCU’s versus PWI’s, have 40% more in student loan debt. A variety of factors contribute, including that fact that many are low-income and first-generation college students borrowing at greater rates and greater amounts, seeking loans from costlier sources, and then encounter obstacles repaying their loans. This is shocking, considering that HBCU’s cost relatively less than PWI’s. However, HBCU’s are mainly funded through government contributions and are private institutions with little alumni donations; whereas, PWI’s are generally public institutions with money coming in from several pots.
Jaimee Swift, a PHD student at Howard University can attest to the financial gaps. Although blessed to be on scholarship, she experienced a difference in financial response after finishing her undergraduate degree at Temple University and going into a graduate/PHD program at an HBCU. She says it took more work to be awarded scholarship money and also had trouble getting the stipend she was rewarded while at HU.
“It wasn’t just the issue of finding scholarship money; but, also fighting for my award money I was set to live off of outside of my financial aid,” she explains. “Coming from such a well put together machine like TU where my refund was distributed to me almost immediately, I waited almost three months for my stipend at HU. I fought for a meeting with the Executive Board to get answers. I found out that the way in which funds are distributed are different than at a PWI. Government funds have different processes. The university was essentially waiting for those funds themselves. Going deeper, there’s also a culture from financial departments where they view graduate and PHD students as people who “choose” to continue their education. In turn, undergraduates are given financial priority, which can delay funds even more.
Regardless. HBCU’s provide a very specific, irreplaceable cultural experience for black students. “An HBCU is the mecca of education for us,” Jaimee says. “Unlike my peers at TU and elsewhere, I have a more well-rounded educational experience because I’m being taught more than just the surface of the black experience in literature, arts and the likes.”
I agree with Jaimee. My year at JCSU gave me the inspiration to continue finding my black girl magic, just elsewhere. It’s unfortunate that due to the financial hardships, many HBCU’s are now extinct. Hopefully, with more high profile people stepping up, alumni contributions and the government recognizing the importance, HBCU’s left standing can continue to thrive and more will come in the future.