- Atlanta's Morehouse College announced Wednesday it is soliciting donations intended to reduce its students' education loan debt.
- The historically black men's college is talking with philanthropists, companies and others who have shown an interest in donating. Funds would be distributed directly to students or graduating classes.
- Called the Student Success Program, the initiative comes a little over two months after billionaire investor Robert Smith said he will pay off the debt of this year's graduates. Morehouse President David Thomas called Smith's largesse a "liberation gift."
It's not hard to understand why Thomas used the phrase "liberation gift."
Morehouse students' loan debt threshold at graduation is between $35,000 and $40,000. That debt can delay or deter graduates from going on to earn advanced degrees or pursue work they enjoy, Thomas said in Wednesday's announcement.
College students across the country face a similar predicament. Total student loan debt has reached crisis proportions and currently stands at $1.6 trillion. Students at HBCUs borrowed almost twice as much — a median of $26,266 — than non-HBCU students in 2012 to get bachelor's degrees, while one in four HBCU students borrowed $40,000 or more, according to research from UNCF.
Further, black students borrow more and at higher rates than most other groups to earn a bachelor's degree, according to a recent report by the Center for Responsible Lending and the NAACP.
These trends are widening racial and ethnic wealth and income gaps, something of which Morehouse is acutely aware.
In the announcement, Thomas called the program "an important step toward improving outcomes for our graduates and addressing the income disparities that people of color experience when they are overburdened by debt."
That's why UNCF believes the program could be replicated by other HBCUs and liberal arts colleges.
"The impact of such a gift, particularly for minority or economically disadvantaged families, could accelerate the growth of a more diverse and robust middle class," said UNCF President and CEO Michael Lomax in the announcement.
Other colleges are also tapping donors to help reduce students' costs.
For example, St. John's College has a $300 million fundraising campaign underway to support a $17,000 cut to its posted tuition price. And in 2015, Howard University, an HBCU located in Washington, D.C., appealed to donors to help graduating seniors pay off outstanding bills in order to get their diplomas.