Secretary Betsy DeVos, Pell Grants, and politics

On June 25, Betsy DeVos did what few US Department of Education secretaries have done while in office — she delivered remarks at a commencement inside the Dick Connor Correctional Center in Hominy, Oklahoma. Inside this combined medium-minimum-security prison were family and friends who cheered on 18 men who earned a high school diploma, 13 men who earned an associate degree, and 59 who earned a workforce-related credential from Tulsa Community College (TCC) while in prison. Twenty-two men earned honors in their coursework, and one earned a bachelor’s degree from Langston University, which is a HBCU and a member-school of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

This was not her first visit to a correctional facility. Secretary DeVos visited the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Maryland during the 2017 National Reentry Week to learn more about educational programs for youth and adults. The importance of this visit is that Oklahoma’s Dick Connor Correctional Center partners with two postsecondary institutions participating in the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program.

Surely few of the 100-plus graduates who walked across the stage ever thought they could pursue an education with federal aid from the US Department of Education, which oversees the Pell Grant Program. It is the largest postsecondary federal aid program in the nation and is targeted to low-income undergraduate students enrolled in public or private postsecondary institutions. Unlike a loan, Pell Grants-recipients do not have to repay the money. In 2018, approximately 7.5 million people received the maximum amount, which was $6,095. The budget for the program was $30.6 billion. Only a select few people in prison are eligible for a Pell Grant, and students at TCC and Langston University are examples.

None of the graduates likely ever thought they would have an opportunity to shake the hand of the US Secretary of Education — inside prison. Those who know DeVos see her participation in the graduation as an extension of her decades-old mission to open doors of opportunity, even behind bars. “I think what we see here today is evidence of the power of learning and education, no matter who you are, where you are, and that we all have to ultimately be lifelong learners,” DeVos said after the ceremony.

One person who knows the importance of in-prison learning first hand is TCC’s 57-year-old Leland Ross Stermer. He earned his associate degree while serving a 45-year sentence for his second armed robbery conviction. “This is a big deal,” said Stermer. “It’s going to help a lot of people. Guys in here, we know the recidivism rate; tools like this help us not come back here.”

The incarcerated men are not the only ones who believe education in prison matters. The President of TCC, Dr. Leigh Goodson, agrees as well. “It’s good policy all the way around in addition to being the right thing to do when we’re trying to help people rehabilitate their lives and go back and contribute to society and be a better citizen,” Goodson said. TCC began an educational partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and Dick Conner in 2007, before the Second Chance Pell Pilot began in 2016.

TCC’s education program is cutting recidivism rates. In 2018, for instance, Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate for men in the nation. According to TCC, the recidivism rate for its students is less than 5 percent. This is four-times lower than the state’s average of more than 20%. It is worth noting that Oklahoma reduces an inmate’s sentence for earning college credit, which is an incentive for adults to attend programs like TCC.

Overall, there is research supporting the claim that incarcerated adults’ enrollment in education programs — adult basic education, adult secondary education, technical education, and postsecondary — reduces recidivism, builds self-efficacy, and improves workforce opportunities. The Vera Institute identified economic and fiscal benefits of in-prison postsecondary programs, as well.

If correctional officers, college officials, prisoners believe in-prison education works, why don’t we see more prisons using Pell Grants to pay for postsecondary education classes? Paying for college-in-prison with federal money is not a new idea, nor is the debate about its usefulness. This is at its core a political issue — and has been so for half a century.

President Lyndon Johnson, the only president to earn a degree in education, authorized use of Title IV grants by prisoners under the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). Although the bill became law with bipartisan support, its passage was not without controversy. Nevertheless, prisoners used Pell Grants to pay for college for three decades. By the early 1990s, the U.S. had more than 700 college-in-prison programs operating in 1,287 correctional facilities. Approximately 23,000 incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons used $35 million of a $6 billion Pell Grant budget — less than 1% of the total budget — to pay for an education before the enactment of the Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, made all prisoners ineligible for a Pell Grant. This ineligibility remains in place.

President Barack Obama, the only president to visit a prison while in office, decided to open the Pell Grant program to the incarcerated on a limited basis. On July 31, 2015, his administration announced the launch of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to allow partnerships between prisons and postsecondary institutions to offer certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees in subjects ranging from business to the social sciences. More than 200 postsecondary institutions applied. On June 24, 2016, Secretary of Education John King announced the 67 two and four year colleges that were granted an opportunity to educate approximately 12,000 men and women in 100 prisons in 27 states.

Since the program began, Second Chance Pell sites have awarded 954 credentials. The June 25 gradation at Dick Conner Correctional Facility has increased these numbers. This is one reason for the Secretary’s participation in the commencement. “You are all examples of what happens when students can use aid in expanded ways,” DeVos told the graduates. “You are why we propose the Second Chance Pell experiment, or pilot, become a permanent program.”

When asked about the viability of giving prisoners a Pell Grant in 2018, she replied that is was, “a very good and interesting possibility.” At the federal level, the First Step Act supports the use of “recidivism reduction partnerships” and higher education institutions are surely one such partner. There is momentum among some stakeholders to get this done.

For now, DeVos reopened the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program application process to allow new schools to apply for participation on an experimental basis. As she noted in Oklahoma, “We are renewing some of the pilot programs and expanding that, but they’re all still considered experimental. Congress has to authorize making it a permanent expansion,” DeVos said.

So, we will see what happens on Capitol Hill.

By Gerard Robinson.

TMCF National Ambassador Terrence J presents Virginia State University student with summer internship scholarship


Media Contact:
Thurgood Marshall College Fund

WASHINGTON, DC (June 25, 2019) – Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) National Ambassador Terrence J presented Virginia State University student, Jaelan Hodges with a $15,000 summer internship scholarship on behalf of TMCF at the BET Weekend Brotherhood Dinner in Los Angeles, CA, last Thursday evening.

Hodges was one of two Historically Black College and University (HBCU) students selected to intern with Terrence J’s management company, Sunset Park Productions, this summer in Los Angeles, after attending TMCF’s The Pitch 2019 innovation and entrepreneurial competition last month in Durham, NC.

“One of the main reasons I signed on as the TMCF National Ambassador was to use my platform to give back, invest, and inspire the next generation of young innovative HBCU leaders like Jaelan,” said actor, producer and host, Terrence J.

In addition to Terrence J, media executives and influencers, other celebrities in attendance were Mack Wilds, Keith T. Powers, Ryan Press, Elijah Kelley, Shawn Porter, Van Latham, and Kenny Lattimore.

“TMCF’s partnership with Terrence J is really important to us,” said Harry L. Williams, TMCF president & CEO. “He is opening up a new HBCU talent pipeline into the communication, media, and entertainment industries, which needs the diverse students from our 47 member-schools.”



Established in 1987, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. TMCF member-schools include the publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly Black Institutions, enrolling nearly 80% of all students attending black colleges and universities. Through scholarships, capacity building and research initiatives, innovative programs, and strategic partnerships, TMCF is a vital resource in the K-12 and higher education space. The organization is also the source of top employers seeking top talent for competitive internships and good jobs.

TMCF is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, charitable organization. For more information about TMCF, visit:

Texas Southern University Hosts Thurgood Marshall College Fund Fleischer HBCU Scholars Program

Fifty Houston-area high school rising seniors are experiencing a life-changing, week-long program at Texas Southern University this week thanks, in part, to the generosity of an entrepreneurial benefactor and the sponsorship of two dedicated entities – the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and Strada Education Network.

TSU is hosting these 50 students as part of the TMCF Fleischer HBCU Scholars program – with the goal of serving first-generation, under-resourced prospective college students by providing a unique opportunity to experience college life, entrepreneurship and business throughout the week. Students reside on campus at TSU, attending classes, developing business plans, visiting local companies, talking with business professionals, interacting with college students, and hearing presentations from various professionals on campus.

TSU is one of three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) selected by TMCF to participate in the pilot version of the Fleischer Scholars program funded by Strada Education Network. When the original program started in Arizona, the Fleischer Scholars program was intended to provide deserving Arizona-area high school juniors with an opportunity to experience college life, entrepreneurship, and business during a week-long residential program.

Program participant Tarah Peart, a rising senior at William B. Travis High School in Fort Bend Independent School District, said she became aware of the program because of exposure at her school’s campus through posters and her counselor. Never having been on a college campus, Peart said she was interested in attending because of the cost-free week-long stay and campus experience. She says she is looking forward to the program’s fun activities and the competition. “It’s very interactive, that is what I like about it.”

To kick off the program at TSU, participants attended a session where entrepreneur Mort Fleischer, founder of the program, and Fleischer Scholars alumni Josh Elizetxe served as keynote speakers. Paquita Yarborough, Ed.D., program director for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and Patricia Roe, vice president of philanthropy at Strada Education Network, were also in attendance.

“I actually believe we will never achieve the American dream until we get those people who are less privileged economically into the mainstream of this country,” said Mort Fleischer, “I believe this environment allows people to succeed and I am an example of that.”

“This particular program has several facets to it that we feel will have a huge impact on the community and Texas Southern University,” said Yarborough, “We want them (students) to learn more about TSU, learn about business and entrepreneurship, have some exposure to college life, socialize and build their network.”

Pat Roe of Strada Education Network wants program participants to become familiar with career pathways and with employers so that when they enroll in college, they have actually been to a campus, with the opportunity to experience personnel at the campus, understand the layout and what is expected of them.

“Most important we want to establish pathways to careers that are also embedded with internship opportunities and exposure to employer partners,” said Roe. “We believe that if you are on a career track you should have experiences with networking, with employers, and with internships that will help you make a smoother transition into your career.”


Texas Southern University (TSU) honors our designation as a special-purpose institution for urban programming and research. TSU is a comprehensive university providing higher education access to the nation’s underserved communities. TSU’s academic and research programs address critical urban issues, and prepares its diverse student population to become a force for positive change in a global society. TSU offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs and concentrations – bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees – organized into 10 colleges and schools on a 150-acre campus nestled in the heart of Houston’s historic Third Ward. The University’s enrollment has a population of more than 9,700 undergraduate and graduate-school academic candidates. Texas Southern has been a distinguished educational pioneer since 1927, and the University has become one of the most diverse and respected institutions in Texas. TSU has positioned itself as a proactive leader in educating underserved students and many who are the first in their family to attend college.

Anderson, Outgoing Fayetteville Chancellor, Praised as Excellent Leader

Outgoing Fayetteville State University chancellor Dr. James A. Anderson is a towering figure whose intelligence, leadership and excellence will be missed at the North Carolina school and beyond, say those familiar with his tenure.

“I’m really, really, really happy for him, but not happy for the HBCU community because we’re losing an amazing leader, an incredibly transformational leader, a visionary, a person that was willing to take risks for the betterment of all HBCUs,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, of which FSU is a member.

The university will soldier on, but Anderson’s bold and effective leadership will be “a great loss for us,” said Vedas Neal, chair of the trustee board and past president of FSU’s national alumni council.

“Dr. Anderson has taken us well over the bar, moving us into the future at a rapid pace,” said Neal. “He faced the challenges of the 21st century and put us on the map not only locally, but internationally. It has been an awesome experience. Everything has been first-class and upward.”

Anderson, 70, announced June 13 that he was retiring after working for 45 years in higher education. He was unavailable Friday for an interview, but he told The Fayetteville Observer newspaper earlier in the week that he was stepping down for personal reasons, including to spend more time with family.

A news release issued by the university said that Anderson, who led FSU for 11 years, “will continue to be a part of the Bronco family.”

“During his tenure, the university has completed many milestones that are too long to list,” the statement said. “Suffice it to say that among funding agencies, Department of Defense agencies and contractors, national educational organizations, accrediting bodies and our peer institutions, FSU has developed a national reputation.”

The university said Anderson will be on a year-long sabbatical, during which he will continue to serve the military, FSU and city of Fayetteville in different roles. It noted that he will be eligible to return to his faculty position in the department of psychology after his sabbatical.

During his tenure, Anderson helped make FSU – the state’s second-oldest institution of higher learning – the most diverse of the 17 schools in the University of North Carolina system. The university made strides in virtually every quantitative and qualitative measure, from enrollment, retention and graduation rates to financial strength, student diversity, academic competitiveness and property improvements.

“We have grown and become so competitive,” said Neal. “We have programs that are unique only to us, and that is masterful.”

Additionally, she said, international travel for students and engagement of military-connected students have significantly increased. “I have seen the transition from passivity to engagement and involvement and higher levels of accountability for everybody,” said Neal, who has been a trustee for eight years. “We’ve come from conversation to metrics so that everything is measured and accounted for.”

When the university was looking to launch a fundraising campaign, a consulting company recommended a $10-million goal because of the school’s relatively small size, Neal recalled.

But Anderson would have no part of thinking small, setting the five-year goal at $25 million. The school ended up exceeding the goal, raising upwards of $27 million by last year, Neal said.

“He’s just a brilliant man,” she said. “He doesn’t bite his tongue. He’s an advocate for college advancement and growth. He just has a passion for excellence, and he doesn’t want to accept anything less.”

Williams observed how Anderson and his team kept elevating the university in various ways, from innovative online programs to a constant focus on student success.

“He’s done an incredible job,” said Williams. “To me, James Anderson is the model of an HBCU president that all should aspire to be like. He set the bar really, really high and set the standard high and was an exemplary leader. He will be missed because he is probably one of the smartest individuals I have ever known. He was always thinking about how to improve and make things better for the community.”

“You just have to be in his presence one time to know that this guy is a little bit different from the standpoint of a scholar and a leader,” Williams added. “He is a leader among leaders – he has that rare quality that most leaders don’t have.”

Anderson became a prominent and respected public figure in the city of Fayetteville, using his influence to foster uplift beyond the campus, some said.

He’s “the reason” an $80-million senior center will be built in an underserved neighborhood in the city, noted city councilman Johnny Dawkins, a Fayetteville native and member of the FSU Foundation Board.

Anderson “was the most impactful chancellor of Fayetteville in my 60 years, and I’ve known them all,” said Dawkins, who serves alongside Anderson in the local Kiwanis Club.

“There’s so much, it’s hard to put into words,” Dawkins said. “He had a huge impact in 11 years. He would take on tough issues and challenged students and the community. He was very involved in civic organizations, making lots of speeches across our city.”

“I wish him a great next phase of his life,” said Dawkins. “I hope they name a campus building after him. He deserves it. He’s a great American.”

By LaMont Jones of DIVERSE: Issues in Higher Education. Jones can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones

Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge Introduces Parent PLUS Loan Improvement Act to Amend the Higher Education Act

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) re-introduced the Parent PLUS Loan Improvement Act of 2019 to reduce the financial burden placed on parents and families from high-interest Parent PLUS loans. The bill lowers and caps current interest rates, allows for an income-based repayment option for families, and eliminates origination fees.

“The rising costs associated with a college education already pose a significant barrier to earning a degree. Pell grants and Stafford Loans are not enough to fully cover college expenses, which can leave parents and students with a hefty financial burden,” said Rep. Fudge. “As PLUS Loan interest rates continue to climb, it is the duty of Congress to ensure parents and families are not crippled by staggering college costs. The Parent PLUS Loan Improvement Act allows for greater access, flexibility, and transparency during the student loan process, and provides much-needed relief for Parent PLUS Loan holders nationwide.”

In its current form, the Higher Education Act (HEA) requires any borrower that takes on a Federal Direct PLUS Loan to pay interest on that loan at 4.6 percent or 10.5 percent. Borrowers are also charged a 4 percent origination fee. Entrance counseling is required, however, specific guidance on exit counseling does not exist. The Parent PLUS Loan Improvement Act would amend the HEA and help fill the gap between Pell grants awarded and the substantial tuition costs that often remains.

“As a former President of a university that serves high percentages of low-income and first-generation students, I have seen first-hand the sacrifices parents make to pay for college for their children,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “The Parent Plus Loan Act, if passed and signed by the President, has the potential to make college more affordable and attainable for students attending our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as other higher education institutions by removing cost-barriers and adding much needed flexibility for borrowers.”

The Parent PLUS Loan Improvement Act was first introduced by Rep. Fudge in 2016 and re-introduced in the 115th Congress.

Click here to read the bill text.


Office of Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge

Harris campaign boosts efforts to enhance her longtime connection to historically black colleges

In 1986, Sen. Kamala Harris got her bachelor’s degree at Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C., established 152 years ago. Like many Howard graduates, she has maintained close ties to her alma mater ever since and calls her experience there “one of the most important aspects” of her life. Now that the 54-year-old senator is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, she has stepped up that connection in an effort to “mobilize students and graduates of historically black colleges and universities—known as HBCUs—as well as the country’s nine black fraternities and sororities,” the Associated Press reports. She herself is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest sorority founded by and for black women.

Included in this effort is a section on her campaign website designed to give Americans connected to these educational institutions an easier way to build support for her in the Democratic primaries. This especially matters in South Carolina, where there are eight HBCUs, and 27% of the population is African American. On February 29, 2020, it will be the first state to hold a primary or caucus in which black citizens make up a significant portion of the electorate.

Missayr Boker, Harris’s national political director, says, “As we look to realize the promise of the first African American female president, we must be intentional about organizing these communities to ensure they feel part of this campaign and incentivized to take political action going forward.”

Although other candidates—Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke—have also campaigned on HBCU campuses as part of their run for the presidency, Harris has visited more of them by far.

In February, just two weeks after she announced her bid for the nomination, Harris was on hand for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Congressional Fireside Chat to discuss her experiences at Howard. She addressed issues of sustainability and competitiveness of HBCUs with representatives of TMCF’s 47 member institutions.

“I often say there are two things that shaped who I am today: my mother and my family and Howard University,” Harris said. “Being at Howard University meant I knew I was interested in public policy.” […]

“You could do all of these things and it was expected of you,” she said of the HBCU experience. “There were no other barriers other than yourself. That’s very empowering.”

During her fireside chat, Harris spotlighted legislative priorities she’s working on or plans to. Among them are preserving and upgrading historic buildings and sites on HBCU campuses; increasing Pell Grant awards that she says are capped well below what it costs to attend college these days; and pushing for new funding that is part of her plan to raise salaries of American teachers by an average of $13,500. She did not say how much of her estimated $315 billion, decade-long teacher plan would go specifically to HBCUs. Some of the funding would go to help HBCUs and other institutions with large enrollments of students of color reduce the underrepresentation of teachers who look like them.

Thanks in part to Harris’ longtime advocacy, the Senate omnibus budget bill passed in March would increase funding for historically black graduate institutions by 14%, from $63.3 million to $72.3 million. Other majority-black institutions will receive a raise from $9.9 million to $11.4 million.

“HBCUs are critical to the foundation of our higher education system, and provide opportunities for some of the nation’s most promising and deserving students,” Harris said at the time. “I am pleased funds in this bipartisan budget agreement will be invested in the future of these young people. Ensuring HBCUs have the federal support and resources they need to thrive for generations to come is one of my top priorities as a proud HBCU graduate.”

By Meteor Blades of Daily Kos

Terrence J interview on “The Come Up” at The Pitch 2019

TCU With Ashia Skye Episode 4- “WeHaveNow” On the latest episode of #TheComeUp, I sit down with TV host, actor, producer, and entrepreneur Terrence J, at the annual Pitch Competition for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. We talk about everything from him starting radio at 15 years old, to being homeless after college, to his iconic gig as the host of the iconic BET series, 106 & Park. With his time spent on tv, in movies, and in the boardroom, Terrence has more than enough game to give for anyone who’s currently on #TheComeUp.

Brotherhood, debt, and the black college rising

James Hill III loved his visit to Morehouse College. A 16-year-old from Gainesville, Florida, who aspires to attend the private and historically black men’s school, Mr. Hill felt embraced by the brotherhood of an institution that produced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., film director Spike Lee, and many other civil and cultural leaders.

“They just opened their arms and welcomed me in, I never expected that to happen,” he says. “I never expected it to be so warm.”

It helped that James saw history himself. He extended his trip a day and offered to hang around and help photograph Morehouse’s commencement on May 19. Speaker Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor, vowed to pay off the class of 2019’s student loans; James’ picture of Mr. Smith at the podium was distributed by Morehouse and picked up by media organizations across the country.

“I saw nothing but joy,” James says of the event.

He’s not alone in his enthusiasm – for Morehouse in particular, and for America’s historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, in general.

Mr. Smith’s generosity is perhaps just the latest sign that these venerable institutions may be on the upswing. Most notably, HBCU enrollment increased 2.1% in 2016-2017, even as total college enrollment declined across the country.

Brother and sisterhood are one reason why. Rising racial tensions and a tense political climate have minority students seeking schools that deepen their understanding of their cultural heritage and affirm their identity.

Practicality helps. HBCUs like Morehouse typically cost less than other schools. Black students are also more likely to graduate from an HBCU than a predominantly white institution.

But student debt remains a huge problem. Most HBCUs aren’t famous schools with big scholarship endowments. Their students come from a disproportionately disadvantaged population. Consider billionaire Mr. Smith’s generous gift: The cumulative student debt of Morehouse 2019 graduates could top $40 million – a staggering amount of debt for a class with fewer than 400 students.

Experts warn that crippling debt could stunt these schools’ enrollment gains and inhibit students’ education and their access to these environments. HBCUs can’t bank on annual multimillion dollar donations from the richest black person in the United States. Still, some of their leaders hope the gift shines a spotlight on these problems and encourages more people to invest in the institutions.

“My hope is that we start looking at how do you have a group of students, particularly low income students of color, that have such greater levels of indebtedness, and how do we really start strategically addressing that?” says Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough. “This provides an opportunity for people to think about that and say, ‘How do I use my philanthropy to help that?’ ”

HBCUs, filling a need

America’s historically black colleges and universities developed in response to the nation’s shameful tradition of segregation and exclusion of most minorities from the opportunity of higher education.

These institutions, both public and private, began to spring up across the U.S. in the aftermath of the Civil War. Congress defines an HBCU as a school founded prior to 1964 “whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” As of 2017, there were 101 HBCUs across the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Pew Research data. That number has remained stable since the 1980s, but declined from a high of 121 in the 1930s, according to Pew data.

Powerhouses such as Morehouse and Howard University are well known. But many HBCUs tend to be smaller regional schools. Over half serve fewer than 2,500 students. But total HBCU enrollment has been rising, particularly in recent years. Their cultural pull has remained strong.

“I think just being at a place that some people say: This place was created with you in mind and you have role models who look like you,” says Dillard’s Dr. Kimbrough. “There’s some value in that.”

More sectors of society are recognizing the importance of HBCUs, especially as high-profile figures like Beyoncé boost their cultural cachet. Candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have released plans for how they will correct years of decline and school closures.

Debt struggles

In the context of all American higher education, HBCUs can be a bargain, often costing thousands less than comparable public or private institutions. But that does not necessarily mean they are cheap. A year at Morehouse, when room and board is rolled in with tuition and fees, can cost upward of $48,000.

That’s a steep climb that leads to a paradox: While HBCUs may be comparably affordable, students leave with disproportionately more loans and struggle more to repay them, as documented by a Wall Street Journal analysis of Education Department data.

HBCU graduates struggle with debt because most of them are black, and black families face a staggering wealth gap in the United States: A 2014 Pew Research study found that black families have only $11,000 in savings and assets – less than a tenth of what white families hold.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that represents 47 public HBCUs. President and CEO Harry Williams says many of the students at these institutions drop out because of their lack of resources. Ensuring students graduate is the TMCF’s top priority, as typical HBCU graduation rates fall well short of the national average, according to data from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

“I wouldn’t have come here without a full scholarship. I would advise other people not to,” says Joanie Bell, a rising sophomore at Howard University. “Financial aid is a really big problem.”

Federal grants are another recourse for students seeking an HBCU environment but lacking the means to afford it. Pell Grants are the most well-known such recourse, but the typical grant size has not kept up with the skyrocketing cost of college since the program started in 1965. For example, the highest grant awarded for the 2018-2019 academic year is $6,095.

“HBCUs are under-resourced institutions serving under-resourced populations,” says Dr. Kimbrough. “If we’re charging $35,000 to $40,000, and 75% of my students are Pell Grant-eligible, which means their families make less than $40,000, the math doesn’t work.”

More than 75% of HBCU students rely on Pell Grants and nearly 13% rely on Parent PLUS Loans to meet their college expenses, according to the TMCF. (It’s still unclear whether Mr. Smith’s promise will pay off the latter, which are federal loans available to a student’s parents.)

“I know that I will be in debt, but it’s like inevitable,” says Alexander Freeman, a rising junior at Morgan State University in Baltimore. “Student debt seems to be the thing that weighs the most on people my age.”

Mr. Freeman – who had to drop two summer classes because he couldn’t take on more debt – was thrilled to hear about Mr. Smith’s gift, but he says something like that could only happen at top-tier schools like Morehouse.

“Morehouse, Howard: Those are household names,” says Mr. Freeman, who wants to be an engineer. “They don’t really pay much attention to schools like Morgan, they just pay attention to wherever the spotlight is.”

Presidential ideas

That spotlight is widening, thanks to candidates in the 2020 race. California Sen. Kamala Harris, herself a Howard University alumna, has proposed bumping up HBCU funding to improve training for black teachers. And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed an ambitious plan to tackle student debt that includes giving $50 billion to HBCUs.

Some black college leaders are also quite pleased with the progress made under President Donald Trump. His administration forgave $322 million in natural disaster loans (New Orleans-based Dillard benefited from such loans after Hurricane Katrina), expanded the Pell Grant amount and eligibility, and allocated an additional $109 million in HBCU-related spending in 2018 compared with the previous year.

Not only has Mr. Trump helped bump up funding for HBCUs, his political rhetoric may have also driven more students to them. Preliminary results from a study conducted by Janelle Williams at the University of Pennsylvania and Robert T. Palmer of Howard University show that the political climate under the Trump administration and the recent spike in racial-based harassment of black students at predominantly white institutions influenced the college choices for black American college students over recent years.

Attending an HBCU is not just about finding safety, though. Ms. Bell says it’s also a chance to witness the vast kaleidoscope of ideas and people within her own community.

“At an HBCU, I find black individuals who are fully into their blackness,” she says. “The black spectrum is so huge here, it’s amazing.”

For James Hill, that life is the life he wants for college.

“The brotherhood and the foundation – that is what I need in my life. As Spike Lee said, I’m going to get it by any means necessary.”

By Timmy Broderick, Staff of The Christian Science Monitor.

Jessica Mendoza contributed reporting.

White House Initiative on HBCUs Selects TMCF Member-School Students as 2019 Competitiveness Scholars

WASHINGTON, DC (June 14, 2019) – The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is proud to recognize the 20 students from 14 of TMCF’s member-schools, selected as the 2019 HBCU Competitiveness Scholars. Each academic year, the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), bestows their highest student recognition on undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from our nation’s 101 HBCUs.

“Being recognized by the White House as the best of the best from our nation’s HBCUs is a high honor because it shows the world how valuable, creative, intelligent and competitive our HBCU students are,” said Harry L. Williams, TMCF president & CEO. “It is wonderful to see so many Competitiveness Scholars coming from TMCF member-schools. I have no doubt they will represent us well as national ambassadors for HBCU excellence.”

The 2019 HBCU Competitiveness Scholars from TMCF member-schools are:
Fayetteville State University
· Kiante Bennett

Fort Valley State University
· Rodesha Elam

Grambling State University
· Shayna Espy

Howard University
· Diane Ijoma

Jackson State University
· Jasmine King

Lincoln University of Pennsylvania
· Elisabeth Bellevue

Mississippi Valley State University
· Destiney Sharkey

Norfolk State University
· Makhaela French

North Carolina Central University
· Angela Adkins
· Lyndon Bowen

Savannah State University
· Aaliyah Buckholts

Southern University and A&M College
· Nicholas Caldwell
· Rachel Gentry
· Christian King
· Morgan Mallory
· Trezell Raga

Tennessee State University
· Anyah Gilmore-Jones
· Mariah Rhodes

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
· Kyra Rattler

Virginia State University
· Destiny Hodges

After a rigorous nomination process, the scholars are selected based on their academic and extra-curricular activities. All 44 selected Competitiveness Scholars from the 34 HBCUs are invited to participate at the National HBCU Week Conference, where they will be recognized during a special awards luncheon September 9th.

Rodney Ellis, chancellor of TMCF member-school, Southern University at Shreveport, and member of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, said, “Academics, civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and leadership are achieved through action, not position. Congratulations to the students from the Southern University System and other HBCUs for taking the necessary actions and leveraging their positions as students to achieve impact.”


Established in 1987, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. TMCF member-schools include the publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly Black Institutions, enrolling nearly 80% of all students attending black colleges and universities. Through scholarships, capacity building and research initiatives, innovative programs and strategic partnerships, TMCF is a vital resource in the K-12 and higher education space. The organization is also the source of top employers seeking top talent for competitive internships and good jobs.

TMCF is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, charitable organization.

For more information about TMCF, visit:

African Americans are held back the most by student loan debt. Here’s a solution.

Our student loan debt crisis is preventing millions of young Americans from purchasing homes, starting families, saving for retirement and creating wealth. No group is held back more by student loan debt than African Americans, who come out of college with an average loan balance of more than $34,000, compared with an average balance of $29,600 for all students. How can young Americans, and especially young African Americans, hope to create and build wealth when they are saddled with crushing debt before they even enter the workforce?

One solution comes from an unlikely coalition of leaders and turns on how companies hire and retain young workers. Since the 1970s, employers have been able to offer tuition assistance programs, up to $5,250 per year, to reimburse employees for the cost of continuing education. Under current law, employees are not taxed on this benefit, though it is a form of income.

But under current law, if an employer provides an employee with student loan repayment assistance, the employee is taxed on the benefit. Companies large and small opt out of this opportunity because the taxable perk can cost an employee several thousand dollars a year in additional taxes. The arrangement is simply not mutually beneficial.

That may be about to change. A bipartisan coalition in both houses of Congress has introduced a measure which, if enacted, would allow employees to receive up to $5,250 per year, tax free, in employer-provided student loan repayments. The benefit to the employee is obvious: It would help a young person reduce student loan debt loads much faster than normal. For the employer, the benefit is more indirect but real: It would enable companies large and small to better recruit and retain young talent — a growing challenge for almost any firm with the economy at nearly full employment.

The measure, the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, is sponsored in the Senate by Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and has 18 Republican and 10 Democratic co-sponsors, as well as one Independent. In the House, the bill has attracted 105 Democratic and 46 Republican co-sponsors. Explained Warner: “When Congress gives companies a tax incentive to invest in research and development and other aspects of their business, they take advantage of it. We should do the same thing with human beings.” Republican Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, a co-sponsor in the House, said the measure has the “potential to be the 401(k) of student loans.

Already, companies such as Fidelity, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Aetna offer some level of student debt repayment. Tight labor markets have led some firms to include the benefit in their offerings to young people as they recruit and retain talent. Research has shown that even a small monthly contribution from an employer can make a real impact in paying off a loan faster and save thousands in interest and principal payments.

The benefit would help African American students overcome impossibly high debt-to-income levels as they graduate from college. Black students are 20 percent more likely than white students to need federal student loans for college, and partly as a consequence leave school with $7,400 more in student loan debt on average than their white classmates. Within four years of graduation, black graduates have more than twice as much student debt to repay as white graduates and the black-white debt disparity more than triples a few years after graduation. The results are that the median black college graduate owes more in student debt than he or she borrowed 12 years after graduation, while over the same period the median white college graduate has made considerable progress paying down his or her debt obligation. The numbers help explain why loan defaults are higher among African American students when compared with all students’ default rates.

Charity alone will not solve this crisis. There is a real opportunity to make a serious dent at reducing the $1.5 trillion in national student debt. Doing so can help lift millions of Americans — especially black Americans — up the socioeconomic ladder.

By Harry Williams. Posted in the Washington Post.