Postgraduate Debt Remains a Concern for African American Students

Postgraduate Debt Remains a Concern for African American Students

Even with UA scholarships designated for minority students, some African American take out federal loans to cover the cost.

African Americans have the lowest average household income in Arkansas, according to the U.S. Census. Illustration by Hanna Ellington

By Hanna Ellington
The Razorback Reporter

Dylan Williams grew up in a military family, and he is preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Army, in part to help cover the financial burden of college.

Williams, set to graduate from the UofA in 2021, said joining the Army offers the potential benefit of cancelling the student debt he acquired in college.

“There’s a pretty hefty signing bonus, especially for the occupations that I’m looking at specifically in the Army,” Williams said. “When you reach a certain point in your military career, they have loan repayment programs that will allow you to have the government pay back your debt from school.”

Dylan Williams, 20, sitting outside on the University of Arkansas campus.
Dylan Williams, 20, plans to join the U.S. Army following graduation. Photo by Hanna Ellington

The University of Arkansas offers three scholarships specifically for students from underrepresented areas, which includes minority students. But, African-American students such as Williams still borrow more than other students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In Arkansas, African-American students borrow on average $14,694, nearly $3,000 more than white students’ average of $10,827, according to a 2015-16 study by the Department of Education. African-American students have the highest borrowing rate across the country with an average of 88% of students taking out loans, according to a 2015-16 Education Department study.

When taking out loans, some students don’t consider the future repercussions because of the need for money in the present, Williams said.

“I need this money now, and what am I supposed to do without it? I’m not looking at paying it back now,” Williams said.

Williams, 20, a public health major from Conway, received the Silas Hunt Scholarship, one of the three scholarships given to excellent students from underrepresented communities. “It was a pretty big help for me,” Williams said. He credits the U of A with “trying to do something about that problem by offering these scholarship opportunities for minorities, so they’re not faced with the cycle of not being able to afford college.” 

Other scholarships in this category include the Razorback Bridge and the University Enrichment scholarships. All three of these scholarships can total up to $48,000 for all four years, according to the UA scholarship website.

“This allows a broader section of the population from Arkansas to attend the university,” said Denise Burford, associate director of financial aid. “Anytime a student gets a scholarship, they’re more likely to attend. It shows interest in the student.”

For Yves Manzi, 20, a civil engineering major from Rwanda, scholarships were a defining reason for attending the UofA, he said. In addition to assistance from his parents, Manzi supports himself through being a research assistant for the Engineering Department.

“Some of the college students that come here, maybe their parents can afford to pay half of it or something like that,” Manzi said. “But, most of the black students that come here, most of their parents don’t have the money to support half of the debt that they get.”

Yvez Manzi, 20, studying in the civil engineering lounge.
Yvez Manzi, 20, studies in the Civil Engineering lounge with fellow engineering students. Photo by Hanna Ellington

The average household income for black families was $38,731 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. White families earned $14,000 more in 2017, with an average income of $52,768.

Minority students make up 20.5% of students at the UofA, with black students making up 4.4% of the student body, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. Only three scholarships are offered specifically to them. 

The UofA is working to assist students by educating them about loans, Burford said. One of the ways is financial counseling through the Office of Financial Aid.

“We try to give options other than borrowing and explain the long term implications of borrowing,” Burford said.

Educating students on their college financing options could help students be more prepared, Williams said.

“I was lucky enough to have a college prep class in high school, and one of the assignments we had was to pick three colleges that we were planning on going to and then figure out the cost of attendance for a school year. I knew how much it would cost coming up here before freshman year,” Williams said. “In terms of finding out how the loans work, that was on me to figure out.”

In addition to his class, Williams’ father also taught him about loans. Williams is also receiving benefits, like an additional scholarship, from his father’s former employment in the military.

While Williams is certain on his choice to enter the military after leaving the UofA, Manzi is worried about the job prospects following graduation. The possibility of not getting hired because of one’s race is a concern for some students, Manzi said.

“I’m not saying that all companies are like this, but sometimes it’s hard to get a job when you’re a black student,” he said.

Since 2014, Arkansas men aged 18 to 24 have had the highest rate of poverty for men, with nearly 32,000 men living in poverty in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Debt for Arkansas graduates is slowly rising each year, according to the Department of Education. Illustration by Hanna Ellington

Pell Grant Covers Only Part of School Bill for Low-Income Students

Pell Grant Covers Only Part of School Bill for Low-Income Students

With nearly 50% of all UA students needing financial aid, the UA scholarship budget is projected to increase by $5 million in the coming academic year.

By Hanna Ellington, Sophie Neubaum, and Kate Duby

Some in-state Pell Grant recipients graduate with little to no debt from the UofA, while others are not so fortunate. The average debt for UA students receiving Pell Grants is $16,000, compared to the median debt of $12,040 for students not receiving them, according to 2016-17 data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Max McKeown, a senior from Monticello majoring in horticultural science, receives the maximum Pell Grant amount of $6,195, which covers 75% of his tuition, he said. With the grant, McKeown will graduate with low to zero debt.

“The Pell Grant has helped a lot, because I get the full amount of it, so that takes away a big chunk of my tuition,” McKeown said.

UA senior Max McKeown, pictured on-campus. Photo by Kate Duby

Pell Grants are federal grants that students typically do not have to repay, according to the Department of Education. They are awarded to students who demonstrate great financial need. Nearly 20% of undergraduate UA students received Pell Grants in 2017-18, according to College Navigator data.

McKeown, 20, lives off campus, making tuition his only major expense under the grant, he said.

Being a Pell Grant recipient directly influenced McKeown’s decision to attend the UofA, and he thinks attending the flagship university has given him a higher quality education than he would receive at another Arkansas institution, he said.

However, the median debt for UA students receiving Pell Grants is higher than that of students not receiving them, putting into question the measurable impact of the grant.

The maximum grant amount awarded is $6,195 for the 2019-2020 award year, according to the Pell Grant website. Tuition for in-state UA students for 2019-20 is $7,568, according to the UofA’s cost of attendance, with tuition, housing and other fees totaling $26,144.

“[The maximum grant] is a national number, and it’s not enough for a student to come to college,” said Phillip Blevins, director of financial aid.

In addition to Pell Grants, students can take out federal loans, participate in work-study, be awarded a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant or be entered in the Arkansas Academic Challenge to help pay for college, Blevins said.

Director of Financial Aid Phillip Blevins
Director of Financial Aid Phillip Blevins, pictured in his office in Silas H. Hunt Hall. Photo by Hanna Ellington

The nearly $4,000 discrepancy between the accumulated debts of Pell recipients and non-recipients is not surprising to Suzanne McCray, UA vice provost for enrollment.  Students who have Pell Grants still can have significant personal expenses, and so they will take out loans to cover transportation and other personal items, she said.

For other in-state recipients, debt is unavoidable even with a Pell Grant and the addition of scholarships and other financial aid.

UA junior and Pell Grant recipient Billy Cook expects to accumulate about $15,000 in debt for his undergraduate degree in history and political science.

Cook, 21, from Gravette, said he received other financial aid along with the Pell Grant, including the scholarship lottery, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and other smaller scholarships.

“I think the one that made the most impact was of course the Pell Grant, because it’s a fairly large sum of money in terms of a scholarship or a grant. It’s made a good difference compared to the other ones,” Cook said.

UA junior Billy Cook, pictured in the on-campus Starbucks. Photo by Sophie Neubaum

Nearly 55 percent of all undergraduate UA students are receiving grants or scholarships, according to 2017-18 College Navigator data. For the upcoming academic year, $5 million is being added to the scholarship budget for freshman and other students, Blevins said.

The UofA chancellor’s decision to put $5 million into the scholarship budget shows there is a focus on financial need of students, McCray said.

Arkansas ranks 5th in nationwide poverty, with approximately 17.2% of residents living below the poverty line in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’re shooting for 85% of our budget going to in-state students. It’s normally a little more than that,” Blevins said. “The motivation was to make college more accessible for Arkansas students.”

In order to receive a Pell Grant, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application opens Oct. 1 for the upcoming academic year, and students should complete the FAFSA by Dec. 1, McCray said. 

YouTube, Instagram Offer Students a Different Kind of Job

YouTube, Instagram Offer Students a Different Kind of Job

College creators turn social media usage into revenue streams

By Hanna Ellington
The Razorback Reporter

With 90% of 18-29 year olds using at least one social media platform, according to the Pew Research Center, some UA students are taking advantage of that usage to make money.

Sophomore Becca Moss began creating videos in high school. In the summer before coming to the UofA, Moss began uploading her videos displaying on YouTube her life at the UofA, she said.

“I really love watching YouTube and I really love making videos, so why don’t I just upload them there,” Moss said. “I started making vlogs because I thought it would be fun to document my life and look back on it.”

Moss has nearly 10,000 subscribers for whom she creates lifestyle, vlogs and college advice videos. That helps her connect with her audience of college-aged women. Quality videos require time and effort, which has resulted in a paycheck of up to $1,000 a month, depending on the number of views, Moss said.

Similar YouTubers include UGA student Danielle Carolan and Elon graduate Katy Bellotte, who together have over a million subscribers. Estimated paychecks for Carolan range up to nearly $50,000 a year, according to SocialBlade, a website that tracks YouTube statistics.

“[YouTube] makes it easy to be monetized and to get paid for your content, which I really appreciate, just because you do put a lot of work into it,” Moss said. “Being a college student, I pay for a lot of things myself, and I don’t have time to waste time on a hobby like that.”

Income for videos fluctuates, based on advertisements and views, Moss said. To earn money from advertisers, creators must be a part of the YouTube Partner Program, which provides creators with community resources.
Creators must have more than 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 public watch hours over the last 12 months to be eligible, according to YouTube policies, and may then make money from their videos.
Students whose profiles are raised significantly by their athletic skills have yet to be allowed to join the online payday.

That, however, could soon change. The NCAA Board of Governors announced Oct. 29 that student-athletes will be allowed to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Isaiah Campbell, former UA pitcher. “College athletes are putting all this work on and off the field and aren’t getting anything shown for it, like the professional athletes do by making money. I think this also should have happened many years ago, but the NCAA is trying to keep the athletes under tap as much as possible.”
That NCAA ruling could open a new way for athletes to profit off themselves, said Campbell, who recently signed with the American League Seattle Mariners.
“For other sports, like basketball and football, where jerseys are sold and video games were made off these players, it would benefit them in a huge way for paying them for people buying stuff that is theirs,” Campbell said.
Current student-athletes were instructed not to comment on any matter relating to the recent NCAA ruling.
Another platform to potentially profit from is Instagram, where users can create and post sponsored content for companies.
“On Instagram, I like to say that very pretty pictures, that’s the currency, meaning that the prettier your pictures, the further you’re going to go, the bigger impact you’re going to have, that kind of thing,” said Ramona Collins, the UA social media manager.
Visual content can be aspirational for users, Collins said, adding that people return to see more of the same content.
“With a photo, you can capture people’s imagination. They can imagine themselves being in that photo, eating the food that you share, at the concert that you’re at,” Collins said. “I think that’s what keeps people coming back; they want to see what people are doing in their images and videos.”
Engagement rate and follower count are aspects of Instagram “influencers,” who can be sponsored to post about products and brands, writer Paige Cooper said in a blog post for Hootsuite.
For some U.S. Instagram users, the “likes” feature could become private in the near future, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced Nov. 8.
“The likes are what we call ‘social proof.’ The more likes you have, the more probability that people are going to see the photo,” Collins said. “That number proves that people like that content.”
Removing “likes” from Instagram could have an impact on the way brands and influencers work together.

Sophomore Holly Simpson is an ambassador for GreekBox, a subscription service that includes sorority merchandise. She doesn’t make money, but she does receive a discount on her subscription and additional items, such as gifts for her birthday, she said.

She promotes the company through Instagram, where she shares her promotional code. This code provides users with a discount and allows the company to track the engagement of her followers, she said.

“When I became an ambassador, I made my Instagram public instead of private to try to reach more people,” Simpson said. “I got way more people to use my code than I thought I would.”
Some companies base their sponsorships on the number of “likes,” or engagement, but Simpson doesn’t think that should be a factor, she said.
For Simpson, being an ambassador is a stepping stone to a career that involves social media.
“It’s really cool when you’re just scrolling through Instagram and an ad pops up with your face in it,” Simpson said. “In the future, I want to be a news anchor or actress, and I think this is a cool way to get my foot in the door social media wise.”

College Students Stay Logged Into Facebook…For Now

College Students Stay Logged Into Facebook…For Now

Some students are transforming their use of Facebook by promoting their business ventures instead of life updates.

By Hanna Ellington
The Razorback Reporter

Fifteen years after its creation, Facebook has been transformed, along with a new generation of college students. Instead of being used as an online hangout, the platform has shifted to a professional and personal advertising platform, a UA professor said.

Facebook logo
A new generation of college students is transforming social media. Photo from Pixabay

‘The facebook’ went online in 2004, with original users needing a university e-mail address to log on. Once it opened its arms to non-students, original Facebook users were faced with an intrusion of their exclusive community, said Ron Warren, a communication professor.

“I think one reason that young people moved, that some young people moved away from Facebook is because their parents went on it in droves,” Warren said. In 2005, a year after Facebook’s founding, a reported 85% of college students used the platform, according to TechCrunch. In 2018, 80% of 18-24 year olds reportedly were using Facebook, according the Pew Research Center, a decrease of only 5% in college-aged users over 15 years.

“Lots of college students still have Facebook accounts, they just use them for other purposes now,” Warren said.

Among the original Facebook users, adults now aged 30-49, 78% were using Facebook in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. While the younger generation uses other platforms, the original Facebook users have a lower percentage of users on other platforms with only 40% using Instagram and 27% using Twitter in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center.

Because fewer adults use other social media platforms, students have been adapting to using Facebook as their way to communicate with older adults. Instead of evolving as a social platform, it became an advertising platform, Warren said.

“If you’re using it for access to your social network, Facebook’s become an advertising platform,” Warren said. “I think college students use it for that. If they want to interact with an organization, they’ll go to their Facebook page. If they want to go interact over political issues, they’ll go to a Facebook page. If they want to communicate with old people, they’ll go to a Facebook page.”

Screenshot of a video featuring Oelke about digital creation tools that was shared on Facebook
Jake Oelke promotes his business’ content on his personal account.

Some students use Facebook to promote their own brand and companies. For Jake Oelke, a UA sophomore and owner of One Shot Media LLC, Facebook can be useful for advertising toward an older generation.

“It is a great tool for engaging people with my business who aren’t my age, because there’s not a lot of business owners who are my age,” Oelke said. “So, a lot of the, I want to say older people, like 30s through 60s, 65, they’re all on Facebook, so that’s why I post stuff to Facebook, just to reach them.”

Advertising is a useful tool for those looking to expand their reach on the platform, said Raymond Ruiz, a Facebook Journalism Project representative. Facebook uses algorithms to decide the order of users’ newsfeeds, Ruiz said. Paying into advertising can pay off in the long run, Oelke said.

“Over the summer, I spent a lot of money on Facebook advertising,” Oelke said. “I set targets, like target markets, so if I had an ad talking about not fully understanding technology, I’d market that toward 50- to 65-year-olds, and I think those conversion rates were really high because I’d make a ton of impressions.”

Screenshot of a video featuring Oelke about digital creation tools that was shared on Facebook
Some One Shot Media content gets posted directly to Oelke’s personal account.

LinkedIn, a business-oriented networking platform, and Facebook audiences overlap, with 90% of LinkedIn users also using Facebook, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. For Oelke, using LinkedIn for advertising could be more beneficial than using Facebook.

“If [Facebook] doesn’t innovate, it’s gonna die. So, I think my use of Facebook will go more heavy toward LinkedIn,” Oelke said. “I’m doing a lot of the same kind of posts on LinkedIn right now because of the organic reach. LinkedIn will show people your post for not even having to pay them, and LinkedIn’s a lot more professional.”

Facebook usage isn’t expected to decrease anytime soon, but other social platforms gaining users may begin to threaten Facebook usage.

“It’s hard to see it go away,” Warren said. “My guess is, if it starts to decline, they’ll morph to hedge against that sort of thing. And if there’s a platform that’s drawing the audience they want, then like every other media conglomerate, they will go buy it, which is why they own Instagram.”

Relocation of Student E-mails Set for Winter Break

Relocation of Student E-mails Set for Winter Break

Over winter break, students will join faculty in using Microsoft 365 Office, replacing Google as the student e-mail provider.

By Hanna Ellington
The Razorback Reporter

Faculty and students will use the same e-mail provider for the first time in a decade, reducing complications in campus communication, the IT Services spokesman said in an interview.

Student e-mails are set to migrate from Gmail to Microsoft 365 Office during Winter Break. 

Since 2012, faculty have been using Exchange, a Microsoft product, and students have been using Gmail, said Erin Griffin, an IT specialist. Students and faculty had used a university-hosted e-mail service, Griffin said.

Graphic depicting email
Students will soon switch e-mail platforms. Photo from Flickr

Google does not charge for licensing, but could not be used by faculty because of data mining concerns. The UofA instead paid for licenses for faculty and staff to use Microsoft, which does not mine data, said Chris Butler, the communications director for IT Services. Students had to be put on another platform, and they preferred Gmail, Griffin said.

“I know the reason that faculty were put on [Microsoft] was because Google servers, one, they data mine parts of Gmail, that’s why the product is free,” Butler said. “So for certain restrictions on research being done on this campus, we had to use a Microsoft product, more secure e-mail for those, and so that’s why faculty was never put there.”

Since 2012, faculty have been using Exchange, a Microsoft product, and students have been using Gmail, said Erin Griffin, an IT specialist. Students and faculty had used a university-hosted e-mail service, Griffin said.

The Computing Advisory Committee decided last year to move student e-mails to Microsoft. Microsoft licensing has changed since 2012, allowing the U of A to provide the system to all users, Griffin said. While student representatives urged the committee that students want to keep Gmail and its features, the faculty did not want to lose their access to Microsoft, according to committee minutes from October of last year.

The overarching reason for the shift is to lessen the communication barrier between students and faculty, who up to this point haven’t been able to use the same calendar tools to ease scheduling, Butler said.

“There was a lot of barriers between faculty and students being able to schedule office hour meetings because they were on different calendaring platforms, and that really created some barriers,” Butler said.

Looking to the future, students could be better off by switching to Microsoft in college. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one Microsoft service, according to Microsoft’s website.  

“When students graduate, they’re most likely going to use a Microsoft product. If you look at Fortune 500 companies, I mean, chances are you will use Outlook and Office 365,” Butler said.

The move is set to occur over sometime between Dec. 19 and Jan. 13 because students will be out of classes, Butler said.

“Because we issue e-mails with rolling admissions, summer is actually not a great time to do it,” Butler said. “New applicants for Fall 2020 are already on Outlook, so we have kind of started that, and there’s really no great time to move current students. So, it was just decided that at a new year, when they were gone for several weeks, that we would do it during the holidays and then port their messages over.”

Students are apprehensive about the switch as they are unsure about what will be at stake with the new platform.

“I don’t know what I will lose or gain by switching to Office,” said Aidan McGinn, a UA junior.

Messages and calendar events will migrate automatically to the new platform, and e-mail addresses will remain the same, according to the IT website. Students will gain access to the full UA directory, Bulter said. 

Students will continue to have access to Google Suites, which includes resources like Drive and Documents, Butler said. The larger files take more time to attend to, so a different decision will come down the road, Butler said.

“I’m still going to use it because it’s the best, and it automatically saves it for you,” said Kaci Elrod, a UA sophomore. 

Although the benefits out Outlook seem to outweigh the costs, students are still worried about losing Gmail as their e-mail provider.

“I’m a big Gmail person, so everything I use is Gmail,” Elrod said. “I have a personal e-mail that’s Gmail and I have a Mac, so I feel that works better with my computer. So, going to Outlook is going to be hard, but, I guess it’s going to be okay.”

While e-mails have switched in the past, Microsoft is set to be the common platform for students and faculty. 

“We are a Microsoft campus for the foreseeable future,” Butler said.