There is scarcely anything that drags a person down like debt. – P.T. Barnum
The most recent study on HBCU student loan debt by HBCU Money shows a continued trend in this our third installment of tracking the crisis at our nation’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Whatever the nation thinks of the overall student loan crisis, it pales in comparison to what is happening at HBCUs. America’s student loan flu is African America’s student loan pneumonia with no insurance.
To put it mildly, the HBCU student loan crisis continues to be complicated. Overall, less HBCU students are graduating with debt as a percentage, which is a positive thing. Although the cause of why that number continues to drop is very unclear. The other piece of the puzzle though is the amount of student loan debt HBCU students are graduating with is skyrocketing. In the five years since our original report, the median student loan debt for an HBCU graduate is up twenty percent. Over that same period, median student loan debt for those graduating from a Top 50 endowed college or university is up only six percent.
The results are paired against America’s 50 largest universities by endowment which varied by geography, public and private status, and school size similar to that of HBCUs. The Project on Student Debt by The Institute for College Access and Success reports that in America overall, “New data show that the average student debt for college graduates continues to climb but at a slower pace, according to a report released by the Institute for College Access & Success. Nationally, about two in three (65 percent) college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2017 had student loan debt. These borrowers owed an average of $28,650, 1 percent higher than the 2016 average.”
Numbers in parentheses shows the comparative results from the universities of the 50 largest endowments:
Median Debt of an HBCU Graduate – $34,131 ($24,237)
Proportion of HBCU Graduates with debt – 86% (40%)
Nonfederal debt, % of total debt of graduates – 4% (26%)
Pell Grant Recipients – 71% (15%)
Statistics show that HBCU graduates are almost 32 percent more likely to graduate with debt than the national average, this number is up from 28 percent a few years ago. As the nation continues to increase the percentage of graduates with debt, HBCUs are actually decreasing its percentage is a canary in the coal mine. Again, it is unclear what is causing the drop. HBCU graduates are an astonishing 115 percent more likely to graduate with debt than those graduating from a Top 50 endowed college or university, by far the worst number in our report’s history with the previous being 96 percent more likely three years ago and 93 percent more likely five years ago. A disturbing trend upwards if there ever was one. The percentage of HBCU graduates finishing with debt is down over four percent in the past five years, while Top 50 endowed college or university graduates have seen the percentage of graduates graduating with debt down over eleven percent.
In terms of the debt itself, as mentioned the median student loan debt is up over twenty percent since our inaugural report five years ago. Disparagingly, student loan debt for HBCU graduates is more than 40 percent greater than Top 50 endowed college and university graduates. This creates a number of socieoeconomic issues for HBCUs themselves and for the graduates they hope will be able to benefit from education’s upward mobility in wealth accumulation.
Median Total Cost of Attendance – $22,866 ($66,623)
The cost of attending an HBCU should be an advantage for African Americans, but poor endowments and lack of familial wealth continue to negate the one primary advantage HBCUs have, cost. Despite costing almost three times more over a four year period, Top 50 endowed colleges and universities are managing to graduate those who finish with debt at about 9 percent of the total cost of attendance over that four year period. In contrast, for HBCU graduates, they are finishing with 37 percent of the total cost of attendance over the same period.
Three years ago in our second report we said this and it remains true here in our third report as well, “Unfortunately, HBCUs are caught between a rock and hard place in needing to desperately raise tuition to generate more revenue because of weak endowments, but doing so increases an already over-sized burden on their graduates long-term and making it even less likely they will become the donors that the institutions desperately need. It has become a vicious cycle and with so much of African America and America invested in the demise of HBCUs that it seems only a miracle will keep us from perishing.” Without transformative donations of the eight and nine figure variety on a more consistent basis, then it is hard to see the student loan debt load decreasing or even plateauing at this point. A somber reality in a world where education is becoming increasingly vital for upward mobility for individuals, families, and communities.