Black ExperienceEducation

Black Leaders Suggest Policies to Help Students Succeed

Failures by K-12 school systems to prepare Black students for college are compounded by inadequate college admissions policies and support programs, according to a new report from the northwest D.C.-based Black leadership network Project 21.

Such action could make Black students’ completion of a college education a difficult prospect, Project 21 researchers said.

The organization has rolled out new recommendations that call for a “Better Deal for Black America,” such as tying federal student financial aid eligibility to minimum graduation rates as a means of incentivizing colleges to provide Black students with the support they need to succeed. The organization also recommends, as a means of making college more affordable, setting tuition maximums for colleges to be eligible for federal financial aid.

Colleges are admitting Black students who are sometimes unprepared for rigorous college environments, Project 21 Co-Chairman Stacy Washington said in a news release.

Blacks are sometimes accepted with lower SAT and ACT scores, fewer AP course credits and lower high school GPAs than their counterparts, Washington said.

The situation is worsened by colleges that do not provide Black students with individualized support to overcome the deficiencies of their K-12 educations, she said.

This failure is reflected in the statistics for six-year graduation rates. Just 38 percent of Blacks complete their four-year college degree programs within six years. By comparison, 62 percent of whites, 63.2 percent of Asians and 45.8 percent of Hispanics receive their degrees within six years, Project 21 officials said.

“Statistics show that too many families send their kids off to college but never get to attend a graduation ceremony despite investing tens of thousands of dollars. The six-year graduation rate for Black students is just 38 percent and that’s abysmal,” said Washington, a nationally syndicated talk radio host whose oldest child enters college this fall.

“Colleges and universities receiving federal aid dollars should be held accountable for their graduation rates and their return on investment,” Washington said.

Project 21 has outlined steps to require minimum graduation rate standards in order for a school to be eligible for federal student financial aid. A requirement like this would go a long way toward students and taxpayers getting what they pay for in a secondary education, Washington added.

She noted that half of Black college students report accumulating more than $25,000 in college debt after four years in college. That compares to just 34 percent of whites who accumulate such debt.

It’s estimated that every dollar of financial aid raises the “sticker price” of tuition by between 55 and 65 cents, which has led Project 21 to propose a reform of tuition inflation.

“Black students are paying more and getting less these days. We need colleges and universities to appreciate their Black student bodies throughout a full collegiate career, and not just for admissions statistics,” said Project 21 member Jerome Danner. “Colleges take chances on Black students who may initially need more help in keeping up with the curriculum. The combination of linking federal financial aid eligibility to graduation rates and keeping tuition manageable puts the priority not just on admitting students, but also retaining them. This not only helps them succeed, but also protects them from the depression and debt related to being forced to drop out.”

There are four specific Project 21 proposals in their blueprint to give Black college students a better deal, promoting their success rather than setting them up to fail, Washington said.

Included is the requirement that schools receiving federal financial aid to meet minimum six-year graduation rate standards of 60 percent for the general student population and an initial 15 percent lower rate for minority students to be phased out over time.

They’ve also recommended reprogramming existing federal funding to provide additional resources to improve the infrastructure of historically Black colleges and universities if they agree to meet set six-year graduation rate standards.

Additionally, Project 21 suggests preventing tuition inflation by limiting the overall amount of grants and loans a student can receive and by limiting the tuition of schools may charge in order to be eligible to receive federal financial aid programs.

They also want to prohibit federal funding to any school encouraging race-based campus segregation such as separate housing, student centers, recreational facilities and graduations.

“Along with schools needing to reform the way they nurture Black students to succeed, they also need to mind the nature of the campus to prevent polarized race relations,” said Project 21 member Demetrius Minor. “Too many administrators are embracing radical practices like Blacks-only housing and Blacks-only graduation ceremonies that are really sanctioned segregation. This is totally against the colorblind principles advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, and the federal government has a duty to do what it can to stop it.”

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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