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July 12, 2014, 2:04 am

Black families gain allies in Parent PLUS fight

Two national organizations have joined forces to help Black families in crisis after creditworthiness standards were abruptly changed for the Parent PLUS Loan program, which provides federal financial aid to college students.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund is leveraging endowed scholarship funds to provide relief to families who were among 40,000 Parent PLUS applicants who were denied loans to pay for education costs at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) in partnership with United Negro College Fund, known for its slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

The two organizations have agreed to provide $20,000 for use one-time grants and boost support for UNCF’s campaign to raise emergency student aid for families, many of whom experienced job and wage losses during a national recession that began in the latter half of 2007. The money is being provided by the Legal Defense Fund, founded in 1940 by the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, a graduate of Lincoln University, a historically Black institution.

“At a time when a college degree is more essential than ever to compete in the global economy, the Parent PLUS loan crisis has undermined the dreams of many young Americans and their families,” said Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF’s president and CEO.

The financial impact of revised credit standards could have wider ramifications that reach far beyond Black families. HBCU’s are harvesting grounds for half of the country’s black public school teachers, 80 percent of Black judges and 40 percent of baccalaureate degrees conferred to students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Under a new policy adopted two years ago, the U.S. Department of Education began denying loan requests for Parent PLUS loans to any applicant who had a negative report on their credit history for the last five years. Parents who have credit lines reported as delinquent or settled for less than the amount owed — charge-off — are automatically denied. The U.S. DOE was criticized for taking that action without regard to its financial impact and then giving affected families little time to make contingency plans.

The denial of Parent PLUS loans have left staggering numbers of Black students without the means to pay for a college education and, that, in turn, has contributed to declines in enrollment and loss of revenue. HBCU’s, which account for only 3 percent of colleges and universities nationwide, have lost $150 million in anticipated revenue due to denials for Parent PLUS loans. Lincoln and Cheyney, which are in close proximity to Philadelphia, are among HBCU’s nationwide reeling from the chain-reaction effect.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, “We should all make an effort to help ameliorate the financial catastrophe faced by college students at HBCU’s as a result of the new PLUS loan standards. No student should be denied a college education because of an inability to pay, especially because college education is directly tied to economic opportunity and advancement.”

The opposite is taking place according to a statement released earlier this week by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which argued for the plaintiff in Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that eventually led to integration of Black and white students in public schools.

Nationally, there were 400,000 denials of Parent PLUS loans, which are used as a supplement to pay for education costs lowered by other forms of financial assistance, including Pell Grants and Stafford loans. About 28,000 applications, or 7 percent, were requests for loans for use at HBCU’s.

“Based on preliminary 2013-14 Department of Education data, tougher eligibility criteria for Parent PLUS loans continue to block the educational aspirations of HBCU students in the new academic year. With two of three applicants denied for the 2013-14 year, a comparable number are likely to be rejected,” the release stated in part.

Lomax called for more donations in support of UNCF’s Campaign for Emergency Student Aid, to “ensure we don’t lose our next generation of teachers, scientists, businesswomen and businessmen and doctors and nurses.” The CESA program has raised more than $20 million from more than 10,000 donors, awarding more than 8,700 CESA scholarships since it was created in 2009 to help families during economic downturns.

More than half of the families of students at UNCF-member institutions earn less than $30,000 in yearly income. Proceeds from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and UNCF will provide grants to students at Morgan State University in Baltimore and scholarship awards at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

 

Contact staff writer Wilford Shamlin III at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .