State Rep. Darisha Parker
Every year, thousands of students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities and receive a well-rounded education that can take them into the next phase of their lives where they are productive members of society. It is wonderful to see graduates rise to every occasion in many areas of business and society to make us all proud.
Pennsylvania is home to two HBCUs: Lincoln University, which is one of the state-related universities, and Cheyney University, a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institution, which is the oldest HBCU in the country.
However, for Black students at those colleges and colleges across the country, paying back the debt they incurred as students is sometimes an insurmountable task and one that weighs unfairly to their disadvantage. This college debt follows them sometimes their entire lives and keeps them at a wealth disadvantage that we can correct today, specifically with funding in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill. As part of his promise to America, I am publicly asking him to work toward debt forgiveness for these students who oftentimes come to higher education behind the eight ball.
Black student loan debt is at a record high, with those students facing a higher amount of student loan debt than the median student loan borrower. If they come to school from a lower-median income household, that is a problem before they even take one class. These are some of the reasons HBCU graduates don’t have the luxury of incurring more debt.
Black students face higher student debt obligations than other students, with an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than their white counterparts. This is a result of many factors, including the racial wealth gap between communities. While median college debt has risen faster than median income across all racial groups, this disparity disproportionately affects the African American community, with the median student loan debt having risen over 30% for Blacks in the decade from 2009-19. Further, of all racial groups surveyed, African Americans are by far the most likely to have current loan amounts owed exceeding the original loans taken out.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, student loans are currently in administrative forbearance, which set interest rates on federal student loans at 0%, effectively pausing student loans and payments on those loans until February 2022. At this time, however, we’re recommending elimination versus extension. Payments are set to resume in less than 60 days, putting a big strain on African American household budgets!
The Biden administration has advanced or proposed several targeted initiatives to reduce student loan burdens for certain groups, such as making it easier to qualify for public service debt forgiveness, disability loan forgiveness, or protection from fraudulent schools. This had led to a reduction in student loans owed by those groups, but the total student loan debt burden has continued to grow.
Several Democratic bills in Congress have proposed lower or free community college, as well as subsidized education at minority colleges and universities. A social infrastructure bill by the administration would have allowed for up to two years of tuition-free education at HBCUs. The future of these bills is unclear, and the original planned subsidies have been dropped from recent versions of the Build Back Better bill. But I am hopeful a final version of the Build Back Better bill would include at least some funds directed towards HBCUs and other minority-serving colleges and universities.
Now is the time to make going to college affordable and beneficial to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic background going into school and coming out after graduation.
Darisha Parker is the state representative for the 198th Legislative District in Philadelphia.