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Black Schools, Students Grapple with Economic Downturn

Afro American Newspaper , News Report , Sean Yoes Posted: Dec 12, 2008

As the failing American auto industry seeks an infusion of billions from Washington this week to keep them afloat during the U.S. economic tsunami, a report released this week says [America] is failing to make college affordable for poor and working class families.

Measuring Up 2008: The State Report Card on Higher Education, gives Maryland an F in the area of affordability. The report released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, indicates, Higher education has become less affordable for students and their families.

The report states specifically, Poor and working class families must devote 33 percent of their incomeeven after aidto pay for costs at two-year colleges. Financial aid to low-income students is low. For every dollar in Pell Grant aid to students, the state spends 59 cents.

As the AFRO has reported, the financial crisis is perhaps impacting Black campuses across the state more than Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs) because of their historic mandate to educate lower-income students. Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) in Maryland disproportionately serve poor and working class families, according to a report by Marylands Panel on Historically Black Institutions released earlier this year.

In most cases (among lower-income students), the families are already maxed out just paying for the necessities, they dont have a lot of discretionary income for higher education, said Donald Hutchins, vice-president for fiscal and administrative affairs at Sojourner Douglass College in Baltimore.

Sojourner Douglass, an independent institution for historically bypassed people, according to their mission statement, caters to many older students, who work full-time jobs, and students that come from impoverished communities.

Weve increased our student aid from the colleges standpoint because we recognize that theres a larger number of people out there that are going to need higher educationwith losses of jobs and things like thatthey need additional funds to support it, Hutchins said.

So, weve increased our institutional scholarship fund by about 25 percent, which represents about $250,000 and were working closely with the state and federal government to make sure that students get everything that theyre eligible for.

Hutchins added, There have been some minor downturns in the student loan availability.

But, ultimately, it seems Sojourner Douglass is prepared to ride through and survive the countrys volatile economic storm.

I think the education community is pulling together to ensure access for people who need it, Hutchins said. Were going to monitor the situation closely and take a step-by-step and minute- by-minute analysis of it and respond to keep higher education available because its the thing that can transform and change lives. For a large number of people higher education is the answer.

When the U.S. economy was collapsing in September, 24-year-old Aaron-Mark Alleyne was receiving some bad economic news of his own. Normally I get a full rideI dont pay anythingand I discovered I owed like 7,000 (dollars). I didnt have this money to pay, especially at the 11th hour, said Alleyne a Morgan senior from Trinidad set to graduate next year.

Upon his return to Morgans campus from his town of Arima, Alleyne discovered aid to foreign students was slashed, impacted by state budget cuts and the tanking U.S. economy. I found out in SeptemberI was like, `what? But, Im a happy-go-lucky person soI thought to myself, `this is going to work out,

Alleyne said. But, most people were like, `oh my gosh, what am I going to do?

What Alleyne did was lobby Morgans honors department, (his GPA is above 3.6) for assistance and they essentially told him if he came up with a certain amount they would match it. It (the debt) was cut from 7,000 to 2,000 (dollars), which to me is fair because the entire four years I was here I never paid anything. To say I paid $2,000 for four years its not bad, Alleyne said.

Morgan has had to make some general adjustments to accommodate students who are struggling more because of the nations deepening economic woes.
Part of our mission is to provide access and with the economy the way it is we may have to do a little bit more in terms of providing for the neediest students, said Bickram Janak, assistant vice-president of finance at Morgan.

The population that we serve, they come from very poor households so were dealing with these students all along. Over the long term, it may be a little bit more challenging for us but, we always find a way to provide access, Janak said.

So, far Coppin State University in West Baltimore has been generally insulated from the nations economic downward spiral. For the current academic year, Coppin State Universitys enrollment has not been adversely impacted, said Dr. Reginald Ross, vice president of Enrollment Management at Coppin.

Generally, our students are packaged for financial aid during the spring or summer of the prior academic year. When the economy really started to take a serious downturn, particularly on Wall Street, our students were already packaged.

But, as the financial crisis evolves, Ross believes it will likely present new challenges to schools like Coppin. Moving forward, I do expect the economy will have a significant impact on our students ability to pay. For example, it may be more difficult to get credit to secure a loan, he added. For middle-income students who never received a lot of financial aid in the first place, there may be a growing gap. If one of their parents loses their job, they might not be eligible to receive aid immediately, which might affect their ability to pay for school.

The financial meltdown is forcing students, professors and administrators on many campuses to pull together in ways reminiscent of bygone eras. It brings back a sentiment of old where you use to know your neighbors. I hear stories todayIm interacting with some alumni from 1968when they talk about this is what they use to do, said Denise Brown an advisor to several of Morgans student organizations including, {The Promethean} yearbook, WMUR radio, MSU T.V., and {The Spokesman} newspaper.

Well, she added, students are returning to that for survival. Students are relying more and more on each other to get through the dayhelp each other with lunch; help each other with food. I feed a lot of students out of my own pocket and I dont have it like that. But, being an African American coming up you know the deal, so you share what you have.

Brown says the spirit of cooperation is spreading across Morgans campus. They pull together; relationships are built, she said. Some students, for example, are paying $10 to one person, who shops at the supermarket and cooks for a group of students every week, Brown said. And apparently Im hearing that effort is duplicated.

And Brown believes these times of economic adversity will ultimately be a blessing for Marylands flagship Black university. This is going to be a good thing for us because we should have been about this all along, Brown said. Its making us accountable for one another because of this economic downturn. So, when things balance out youre going to watch us rise.

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