It has often been said that education is the crane that lifts people out of poverty, and certainly the Black community has encouraged those of its children who could go to college to do so, for generations.
A good education has set many Black people on the path to steady, well-compensated work, and others to the halls of power and wealth. Our HBCUs are integral centers of learning and preparation for our youth, as well as historical and social anchors that run threads of tradition between generations of Black families.
However, the widening wealth gap between white and Black communities in America makes it more likely that Black students will need to take out loans to fund their education. This, in turn, causes them to start carrying heavy debt burdens early in their adulthood and stymies their capacity to develop wealth.
The irony is that the education that facilitates a good career, burdens a graduate for years afterwards. The systemic racism that still permeates so many American institutions, works to burden our young people in multiple ways.
The racism in our real estate and mortgage banking systems has resulted in Black home owners having significantly less equity in the family homes than their white counterparts, such equity being the most common way to fund a college education. Without that source of wealth, Black families often have to rely more heavily on loans to pay for college.
Even low-income families that qualify for PELL Grants and other government educational programs, end up taking out loans to pay for housing and other expenses that are not covered.
Black youngsters start college with fewer resources, and many have to leave school in order to help sustain their families. The worst scenario befalls too many of our young people — significant debt, but no degree.
Those who remain in school and ultimately graduate, are also more likely than their counterparts to financially support their family members over the long haul. So, on top of making less money than their peers, even with college credentials they are less able to save and invest because they service more debt for longer periods of time and have bigger expenses.
Put simply, student loan debt is crushing the ability of young Black professionals to build wealth. That is why every Black voter should support student debt relief. Measures, like the $50,000 debt forgiveness currently under consideration by the Biden Administration, will positively impact the Black community, perhaps more than any other.
Moreover, the Black community ought to make it a priority to support measures that make college more affordable. Such changes will allow our young people to benefit from their hard work in obtaining an advanced education.
Making college more affordable will restore the promise and opportunity of a degree and subsequent professional career.