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

Students Juggle Jobs, Adopt Ways to Tackle Loan Debt

Students Juggle Jobs, Adopt Ways to Tackle Loan Debt

By Abby Zimmardi
The Razorback Reporter

Students are struggling to finance their college education by working two jobs or even changing their residency to manage the cost and stress of escalating student loan debt.

Gabrielle Abbott, a UA junior majoring in electrical engineering, said she is paying for her education by herself with the help of loans and scholarships.

Gabrielle Abbott sits in the Arkansas Union Dec. 4. Photo by Abby Zimmardi

Abbott has collected around $25,000 to $30,000 in student loans because she has taken out loans for five semesters and two summers.  In the end, these loans will equal the cost of a brand new car.

“It’s a very big burden to have as a student and I think it’s crazy that inflation is so much,” Abbott, 20, said. “I work two jobs to pay my bills so I take the money that I make over the summer and I work during the school year too, to pay all my bills.”

Alec Morris sits in front of Old Main Dec. 2. Photo by Abby Zimmardi

Abbott works on campus for the College of Engineering as a peer mentor and she also works an average of 20 hours at Chick-fil-A on the weekends, she said.

In the summer of 2019, Abbott worked a paid internship as a power transmission engineer for Arkansas Electric Cooperatives in Little Rock, she said. She saved the money she earned to pay for living costs during the 2019-20 school year.

“All of the money I have from that is what I’m using to try to ride out all of my rent through May,” Abbott said. “So, from August to May. So, my rent, my water, my electric and Wi-Fi.”

Although on average, females have more student loan debt than males, Alec Morris, a UA senior majoring in chemical engineering, has more loan debt than Abbott.

Morris has around $42,000 in student loans from his first seven semesters at the University of Arkansas, he said. In order to lower the amount borrowed, Morris changed his residency to Arkansas from Tennessee in order to have in-state tuition, he said.

Because Morris has in-state tuition, it will take him 10 years to pay off his student loans if he does the maximum payment of $500 a month.

“I’m just gonna max it out whatever it is,” Morris said. “So, it’ll probably take me like seven to 10 years.”

Morris also has more debt than Ellie Hobbs, a UA sophomore majoring in civil engineering. She has around $4,500 in student loans from her first three semesters at the university, Hobbs said. She is planning on taking out more loans for her remaining years at the UofA.

Hobbs, 19, is also considering taking out loans for a potential study abroad opportunity, she said.

Freshman Ellie Hobbs, majoring in civil engineering. Photo courtesy of Ellie Hobbs

Although Hobbs will be taking out more loans for her education, she is not focusing on paying back her loans while in school, she said. 

In contrast to Hobbs, Abbott is thinking about how she will pay back her loans and she has the aid of scholarships to help her clearly map out a plan, she said.

Abbott has received $18,000 in scholarships in total since her freshman year, she said. She has received the Academic Challenge Scholarship for $4,000, she also received a $2,000 scholarship from the university and a $2,500 scholarship from Chick-fil-A for her junior year.

It will take Abbott five to six years to pay her loans off after she graduates, but she wants to pay as much as she can and try to pay them off in one or two years, Abbott said.

“My current plan is to just take my salary and subtract how much loans I have and then obviously a livable salary as far as rent and bills and everything and try and pay it back in one to two years,” Abbott said. “Just because it’s such a big burden, it’s very overwhelming.”