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Many Blacks Balance Work, School

Urban League Urges Strengthening Pell Grant

Stacy M. Brown | 6/11/2014, 3 p.m.
Courtesy photo

Sixty-five percent of African-American undergraduates attend college as independent students, balancing work and family responsibilities in addition to their academic pursuits.

However, African-Americans receive less financial aid because many enroll less than full-time and don’t qualify as a part-time student, said authors of a new report issued by the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau in Northwest.

Authors of the report, titled “From Access to Completion: A Seamless Path to College Graduation for African-American Students,” said policymakers need to find better methods of serving nontraditional students, those who aren’t dependent upon parents or others to assist them financially.

“African-American independent students are more likely to be identified as employees who decided to work and go to school, in other words, they are more likely to be employees working to care for a family as opposed to students working to meet expenses,” said Susie Saavedra, the senior director for education and health policy at the National Urban League (NUL).

“African Americans are also more likely than other races or ethnic groups to have a zero expected family contribution,” said Saavedra, 35.

Chanelle P. Hardy, executive director of the NUL’s Washington Bureau, said employment and family dynamics affect the type of postsecondary institutions that students attend, the amount of credits they take each semester, and their college persistence and completion rates.

Also, the 26-page report noted that 48 percent of independent African-American undergraduates are single parents compared to 23 percent of whites, 34 percent of Latinos, 36 percent of Native Americans, and 19 percent of Asians.

Additionally, 23 percent of independent African-American students enroll in four-year institutions compared to 49 percent of dependent black students, or 40 percent of all undergraduates.

Authors also discovered that 42 percent of independent black students currently receive their education at two-year colleges while 27 percent currently attend private, for-profit institutions.

“Consistent with their choice of institution, roughly one-third of independent African-American students are in bachelor’s degree programs, compared to 53 percent of dependent African-American students and 46 percent of all undergraduates,” Saavedra said.

Released on May 15, the report comes 60 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which made equal access to educational opportunity the law.

“The timing of the report could not be better as we celebrate Brown v. Board of Education, which sought to ensure African Americans access to an education on par with white students,” Hardy said.

“We haven’t achieved equity or access yet, but there is three times the number of black college graduates than there were [60 years ago] and that’s important because it demonstrates that, despite a strong public narrative to the contrary, African Americans both value and pursue education,” she said.

NUL officials said they’re seeking to advance the conversation by providing the necessary supports and resources that will mitigate the challenges black students face.

They said the Pell Grant, which for more than 40 years has opened the doors of postsecondary education for millions of Americans, must be strengthened to fill the gap between rising tuition costs and decreasing state investment.