Black students face lower retention rates statewide

Black students face lower retention rates statewide

By Kate Duby
The Razorback Reporter

Although first-year retention rates for black students in Arkansas have increased nearly 7% since 2015, black students still face substantially lower retention rates than white students statewide, according to recent data compiled by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

From fall 2016 to fall 2017, black students at four-year Arkansas institutions had an average retention rate of 65.4%, compared to a white student retention rate of 75.6%, according to the 2018 Arkansas Department of Higher Education Student Retention and Graduation Report.

Retention rates generally increased for both white and black students from fall 2014 to fall 2016,  but the gap remained significant, according to the report.

Kennedy Djimpe, 21, from Little Rock, withdrew from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock after his freshman year in spring 2017. After withdrawing, he spent a year out of state at vocational school completing prerequisites and certifications. He returned to UALR in fall 2018, but tuition was too high for him to re-enroll in the spring, he said.

Djimpe said he encountered personal hardships at UALR that made him not want to attend school there anymore. He also struggled to pay for college out of pocket, he said.

The average in-state tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year at UALR was around $9,530, according to the UALR bursar’s office.

During his two semesters at UALR, Djimpe accumulated between $5,500 and $6,000 in student loan debt. He is still in the process of paying off his student loans, he said.

If Djimpe could take student debt out of the equation, he “would still be in,” he said, “getting ready to finish my degree.”

Djimpe entered college as a music major but now plans to get a degree in radiography, he said.

Between fall 2011 and fall 2016, the first-year black student retention rate at UALR decreased overall from 64.9% to 60.4%, with fall 2015 having the highest rate at 68.5%, according to the 2017 ADHE Minority Recruitment and Retention Report. The report also indicates, however, that the graduation rate for black students at UALR increased by 9.7% from 2010 to 2016.

These retention patterns occur against a backdrop of declining minority enrollment at public institutions across the state.

Black students make up 25% of UALR’s undergraduate population, according to 2018 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. 

This makes UALR diverse compared to the UofA, which has a black student population of 4.4%, according to the UA Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. Both the Fayetteville and Little Rock campuses have seen a decline in black enrollment since 2015; UALR saw its black enrollment fall 2.7 percentage points to 27.7% in fall 2015. Between fall 2015 and fall 2016, African American enrollment at the UofA decreased 1.9%, according to the 2017 ADHE Minority Recruitment and Retention Report.

John Post, the director of academic communications for university relations at the UofA, said declining minority retention rates at the UofA are influenced by numerous factors, including financial stability, academic success, physical and emotional wellness and social engagement.

Setting the Example: How First-Gen Students Raise the Bar & Their Debt to Better Themselves

Setting the Example: How First-Gen Students
Raise the Bar, and their Debt, to Better Themselves

University of Arkansas first-generation students have decreased over the years, but the student loan debt has steadily increased and exceeded Arkansas’ average over the past 5 years, according to the College Scoreboard, a Department of Education database.

By Elena Ramirez
The Razorback Reporter

When individuals gain higher education, they accomplish the most effective way to raise their families’ income, according to research from the National Center for Children in Poverty. Yet higher education is expensive and intimidating, especially for first-generation students, who often have little background in navigating through the unknown world of federal loans, private loans and applications

Emily Beltran is a Rogers New Technology High School senior and prospective UofA Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design student. Photo by Emily Beltran.

“It’s harder because in a way, you’re guiding yourself,” said Emily Beltran, a Rogers New Technology senior and a first-generation student who has been accepted to the University of Arkansas. “Your parents can’t give you much advice … it’s definitely hard not being mentored by your parents.”

The complexity of paying for college is just one of the many issues first-generation students need to resolve on their own. The average debt for first-generation students at the University of Arkansas has increased by 12.3% to $14,423 in 2018, over the past five years, according to College Scorecard, a Department of Education database. Dekarius Dawson, first-generation senior music major studying voice, said he has struggled with his out-of-state tuition rate. The native of Memphis, Tennessee has attended the UofA for three years and will be graduating in December with more than $29,000 of federal student loan debt, double the amount for first generation students at the U of A.

Despite that amount of debt, Dawson notices the important precedent of his work.

“To me and my family, this is a huge accomplishment, because I’m setting an example for my brothers and others in Memphis,” he said. “Receiving a degree is the new standard I’m trying to start.” 

Dekarius Dawson is a first-generation student at the UofA. He will graduate this fall with a vocal music degree that he completed in three years. Photo by Elena Ramirez.

Dawson became a part of the UofA’s First-Generation Mentoring Program. He was paired with professor Timothy Thompson, who was also a first-generation college student in 1971.

Thompson recalled he was able to receive his undergraduate degree without acquiring student loans. “I can’t imagine being an undergraduate student these days and coming into these five sometimes six-figure loans and not having any idea if you will have a job when you get out of school,” Thompson said.

The three-year-old program, funded by the Honors College, provides students a mentor on campus. Students have to be the first in their family to attend a four-year college.

Despite the 12.3% increase in debt for first-generation students, enrollment for trends are heading in the other direction:  first-generation enrollment has declined 3% over the past four years. The decrease of first-generation students is something that Chancellor Steinmetz is focused on with the new student success center that will open in the Spring 2021, said Ramon Balderas, student development specialist. “We grew very fast over the past 10 years. We are still trying to adjust to the changes,” said Balderas. “Our resources are very spread out and the new student center will help students.” About 26% of the UofA’s student population is first-generation.

Thompson has been a leader in the First-Generation Mentoring Program. Photo by Elena Ramirez.

The UA Student Support Services is a federally funded program that helps first-generation and low-income students. The program serves 325 students a year.

One local high school is working to support first generation students for life after campus. Two counselors at Rogers New Technology High School are pursuing initiatives on their campus to ensure students have a plan for after high school. Counselor Cindy Caudle said the Rogers New Technology High School principal wants “no graduate to be left on their parents couch in June.” Brenda Walkenbach, who has had 25 years of experience in high school counseling, wants to present high school students with multiple options. “It may not include college, it may be the workforce or the military,” she said.  Caudle added that a number of students enlisted in the National Guard or fully enlisted in a branch of the military as a means to pay for college.

Every second Tuesday of the month, students and their parents meet at Rogers New Technology High School for a “Senior Wrap Session” where they are provided with guidance about post-secondary school options and resources.

High school counselors Brenda Walkenbach (left) and Cindy Caudle (right) help students prepare with the next steps after high school. Photo by Elena Ramirez.

Beltran, a Rogers New Technology student recently accepted into the UofA’s Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, said she will be the first in her family to attend a four-year college. She is a part of the Early College Experience program, where she attends Northwest Arkansas Community College while enrolled in high school. She will graduate from community college with an associate’s degree. 

Beltran has applied to approximately three scholarships so far and is relying on family support for the amount that cannot be covered, she said. She isn’t familiar with the loan process and has been intimidated by the essay portion of scholarships.

“Writing has always been my weakest subject, but I can go to NWACC’s (Northwest Arkansas Community College) writing center and I know they can help me there,” Beltran said.

Being first-generation motivates her to accomplish school and to better herself, she said. It will bring a change for her family. 

She knows that school comes at a high expense, but said getting her prerequisites out of the way “is like a stress taken off of [her] shoulders.” 

The cost of school, she said, will not hold her back.


Females Face High Student Debt at Technical Schools

By Kirsten Baird
The Razorback Reporter

Female students who graduate from Bryan University, a technical school in Rogers, have an average of about $18,000 in student loans. This is $9,375 more than male graduates accrue, according to U.S. Department of Education student loan data from 2016-17.

Bryan has the largest gender gap in student loans in Arkansas, according to the College Scorecard, an Education Department database. An official at Bryan declined to comment. 

Furthermore, the data shows that this gap is almost $3,000 more than Lyon College, a private school with the second largest gender debt gap.

In contrast to technical schools, larger public universities such as the University of Arkansas have a gender debt gap of about $900, according to the College Scorecard student loan data.

The nature of technical schools differs from that of public universities in the sense that there are often fewer core classes and more hands-on experience related specifically to career training, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

When comparing the percentage of males to females for Bryan and UofA, there is a difference in the cost and disbursement of money.

According to the 2016-17 U.S. News & World Report for Education, Bryan University is about 30% female and 70% male. The average scholarship awarded at Bryan is $5,145, according to the U.S. News, which is significantly less than the average amount of tuition per year. 

The UA Enrollment report shows that the University of Arkansas is 52% female and 48% male.

Interviews with female students at the U of A show the range of experiences in financing college. Mallorie Spielmaker, 19, from Fayetteville, Arkansas is a second-year special education major at the University of Arkansas. She said she has the Arkansas Academic Challenge scholarship and a leadership scholarship offered through the university. 

“This year it was $4,000 for the whole year,” Spielmaker said. “The leadership is $1,000 per semester.”

After one and a half years in school, Spielmaker has had to borrow $15,000 in student loans. “By the time I graduate, it will probably be closer to $25,000,” Spielmaker said. 

Another UA student, senior Chloe Shreve, 22, is a political science major who has had to borrow money to pay for school even though she received federal grants. Shreve had a scholarship in her freshman year called the Freshman Success scholarship, granted to students whose parents didn’t attend college.

Mallorie Spielmaker, UofA sophomore, has over $15,000 in student debt. Photo by Kirsten Baird

Even with the scholarship money, Shreve said she still had to borrow in order to pay for school.

“I am pretty sure I am going to be graduating with around $10,000, because I get a lot from FAFSA,” Shreve said. The total Shreve receives in Federal Pell Grants from the university is about $3,500 per year, she said. 

Additionally, the length of time in school could have an impact on the amount of student loan debt that a student accrues.

At Bryan, the program that most female students choose is the Business Administration and Management with an emphasis in spa management, which is one of the longest programs at the school, according to the Bryan University academic report. The length of time attending school can tend to lead to higher student borrowing. Generally speaking, females are enrolled in school for a longer period of time, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Women face higher rates of student loan debt, studies find

Women face higher rates of student loan debt, studies find

By Coleman Bonner
The Razorback Reporter

According to the American Association of University Women, females graduating with a bachelor’s degree have an average cumulative debt of $21,619 as opposed to the $18,880 cumulative average for males. Females, on average, leave school with greater amounts of student loan debt than male graduates due to what experts say are institutionalized and cultural factors creating the debt disparities.

 “Women now make up the majority of college students, though they continue to suffer from a lack of mentoring, subtle and explicit sexism, and implicit bias in many professions,” said Lisa Corrigan, associate professor of Communications and director of the Gender Studies Program at the UofA.

Corrigan said that while she took out loans to finance her education, she was well informed of the risks and what her borrowing cap should be, something she says is rare. 

Lisa Corrigan, Associate Professor of Communications and Director of Gender Studies Program at the UofA, image courtesy of UA website

“The majority of owners don’t understand compounding interest or loan repayment,” Corrigan said. 

A 2017 LendEDU study of 1,400 students found 50% of female students said their parents didn’t help pay for college in any way, while 43% of their male students had no financial support from their parents. The survey found 6% of females have the entirety of their school paid for by parents, but 10% of the males were similarly lucky. 

Alice Shattuck II, Fiscal Support Manager for UA Associate Vice Chancellor’s Office

“I think some people are going into it with an imperative to go to school and take it all out in loans without really thinking long-term,” said Alice Shattuck II, fiscal support manger for the Associate Vice Chancellors Office. “I definitely think people are unaware of what they’re signing up for and I definitely think people are not making a good cost and benefit decision before they take out these loans.”

Denise Burford, associate director of financial aid for the UofA, said that , depending on the major and individual seeking the loan, the risks of student loans can often outweigh the potential benefits of a degree.

“Drive is more important than anything,” said Burford. “We’ve bought into the idea that were going to earn more just because we have a college degree and while it’s true for most, it’s not true for everybody.”

 Corrigan agreed. “It depends on the degree and the amount of student loans,” Corrigan said. “It also depends on the student’s family and their generational wealth. There is no one-size-fits-all answer because not all students can bear the same debt load.”

While college degrees certainly are helpful and often essential in certain career paths, there are some that are objectively more valuable than others. These majors, like engineering for example, have higher starting salaries than others and are often male-dominated. These factors contribute to the differences in debt between genders. For example, elementary education, which has a median yearly income of $35,800, has a workforce that is 88% female. Electrical engineering has a median yearly income of $78,500 but 91% of graduates in this field are male, according to a study posted by PayScale. 

Denise Burford, Associate Director of Financial Aid . Photo by Coleman Bonner.

Though these high-paying career fields are more likely to be male dominated, women within these fields are still making less than their male counterparts. According to the same PayScale study, the starting salary of a woman in an electrical engineering job will be $1,500 less on average than her male counterpart. Furthermore, men in elementary education make $3,100 more in starting salary on average than females. 

“They are hired into the same jobs as men and make, on average, less money for the same labor,” said Corrigan. “Women in Arkansas are less likely than men to be in the labor force and more likely to live in poverty and only about 20% of women in Arkansas hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.” 

Arkansans Work To Make Dreams Possible Even With Student Debt

Arkansans Work To Make Dreams Possible Even With Student Debt

Graduating from college, getting married, having children and buying a home are all part of the quintessential “American Dream.”

By Abbi Ross
The Razorback Reporter

When author James Truslow Adams coined the “American Dream” idea in 1931, student debt was not the $1.6 trillion weight pushing down on the shoulders of the American people.

The following young Arkansans are doing what it takes to make their version of the American dream work, even with student debt. Christian Earl, a 23-year-old cosmetologist at a salon in Little Rock, has around $9,000 in student loans that he is working to pay back, he said. He works at a salon called Just Blow, A Blow Out Bar.

Earl graduated from the Salon Professional Academy in Little Rock in April of 2016, he said. Earl qualified for some grants and so he did not have to borrow as much as other classmates.

“I was not as worried because my loans are not as high as some peoples’ loans are,” Earl said.

Earl said he was able to get his current job, a month before he would have to begin repaying his loans.

Earl’s loan payment of $102 is taken from his checking account automatically each month. As a result, Earl follows a budget each month to ensure he has enough for his loan and other necessities. “You have to learn how to save,” he said.

Earl hopes to someday move to Los Angeles, yet recognizes the high cost of living on the West Coast is compounded by the difficulty of repaying the student loans.

Farther south in Dumas, Arkansas, 23-year-old Jake Lassiter is putting his degree to use at a seed and chemical store while working to pay back his student debt. Lassiter said he graduated from the University of Arkansas in Monticello in 2018 with a degree in plant soil and science.

Lassiter said he had to borrow $12,500 after he lost academic scholarships by his third semester due to flagging grades.

UAM graduate Jake Lassiter now works at a seed and chemical store while working to repay his student loans. Photo Courtesy of Jake Lassiter.

Lassiter, who pays around $180 a month on his loans, said that for someone with a larger amount of debt, it could be even more stressful and have a definite impact on future decisions. In his case, Lassiter said the $180 a month student loan payment is not enough to dictate any of his major decisions. “It’s an incentive to stay employed,” Lassiter said.

For others, loan payments come at a different price: it could be the difference between having the lights on at home or not. Many borrowers say providing for their families comes first.

Parker Kerr, a 22-year-old from Hazen, Arkansas is a husband and father of two working to support his family.

Kerr attended Arkansas Tech University for one semester and the University of Central Arkansas for one semester before withdrawing in the fall of 2018. The reason? His partner was expecting their first child, “I had to get to work and find a house,” he said. Kerr, currently working as a security guard at St. Vincent’s Infirmary in Little Rock, said he is currently in default on his loans.

Kerr was studying nursing at UCA and said he would like to go back someday to become certified as a paramedic, but the outstanding debt is an obstacle.  “It’s kind of keeping me from furthering myself in that area,” he said. “It’s almost impossible at the moment.” 

One former Arkansan is going back to school on her own terms, even as she travels across the U.S. in a tractor-trailer.

Anna Ramirez, 35 and originally from Mountain Home, Arkansas, packed up her belongings in the fall of 2019 and made the decision to live with her boyfriend and travel across the U.S. with him as he works. They drive is big rig and deliver products throughout the country.

Anna Ramirez during her travels at a stop in Las Vegas in October. Photo courtesy of Anna Ramirez.

Ramirez’s academic journey started in 2004 at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home and then she transferred to ASU’s main campus to pursue a degree in photojournalism.

She withdrew in the spring of 2011 with about $40,000 in student debt and didn’t continue because she did not have financial aid for another semester, Ramirez said.

“If I had known then what I know now, I would have not gone into debt for the education I got,” Ramirez said. “Even if I had graduated that semester, the amount of debt I am in, I cannot make enough money in Arkansas to pay that debt.”

Making monthly loan payments while working full time, going to school and balancing necessities is nearly impossible sometimes, Ramirez said.

“I have struggled with it and I am very open about it,” Ramirez said. “I don’t feel like it is talked about enough, even for those who do graduate, but especially for those who don’t.”

The decision to leave Arkansas has allowed Ramirez to afford to go back to school, she said. 

Ramirez is currently enrolled in an online program for education with Western Governors University, she said.

“If the only thing I can do is something drastic, I’m going to do it,” Ramirez said.