Equity In Higher Ed #InvestInEquity

To Colleges With Billion Dollar Endowments & Equity Initiatives: Close Your Collections Accounts

Your lawyers may not agree, but you need to set your poor students free

I know this is bad timing, but if not now, when?

According to US News and World Reports, there are 10 schools that have multibillion dollar endowments and every school has pledged to make “diversity and inclusion” a priority with recruitment and initiatives. This is a good start, but what about economic justice?

Most college websites display the requisite rainbow of students with just enough Black and brown to look diverse, but they’re often not reflective of how many African American or other people of color that are actually enrolled or employed at their schools.

Nevertheless, I want to focus on the invisible minority — students on financial hold or in collections. These students can’t be photographed because they owe the school money. Every college has a “collections department” and every student will get a call from them if they can’t pay their tuition and fees in full. These are often poor, or working class students of color and/or non-traditional students. I’ve seen students on hold for low as $100 or for $12,093 (which is my total).

To be fair, most Ivy League schools are need blind meaning that they admit students regardless of their ability to pay for college and they provide grant only, no loan funding. However, they are the exception to the rule and most schools don’t provide adequate supports for low income students. Therefore, that isn’t enough considering the low admissions rate of poor and students of color and this policy doesn’t apply to non-traditional students. Contrary to stereotypes, not every Black or student of African descent qualifies for financial aid.

It’s been my observation that African American and other students of African descent who get accepted into top tier schools often come from hardworking families. If they’re 2nd generation college educated, more than likely they get little to no financial aid, but that doesn’t mean they’re rich or can afford tuition and fees. College is expensive and all it takes is one past due bill and you’re on financial hold and your account is sent to collections.

I’ve literally been on hold for over 20 years. I worked 2 jobs to go to The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), had a major personal crisis and was stuck with a final tuition bill (that includes 2 classes I didn’t complete). Over the years, the bill grew to $26,000. There was a judgement, but I didn’t find out until after because didn’t receive notice. I fought this bill for years! Whenever I’d get a little money, I’d try to make payment arrangements, but the lawyer insisted on a large initial payment. Finally, in 2017 after reaching out to lead administrators and trustee members they agreed to remove $14,000 in fees and interest, but I still have my tuition bill.

As of 2019, The University of Pennsylvania had $14,649,761,000 in its endowment fund and they ranked #8 in America. Princeton University has the highest endowment. I don’t know how much is owed to UPenn or any other college, but I’m almost willing to bet it isn’t anywhere close to a half percent of the endowment which is $73,248,805.

I’m asking all college presidents and their Boards of Trustees with billion dollar endowments to pledge .005% to release holds and clear ALL collection accounts for students that can prove financial need and use the balance for real social justice reform and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Talking about social justice without addressing the financial impact of systemic racism and bias is no longer acceptable. Colleges and universities are big business and they make billions of dollars from donors, tuition, sports and grants and other government and private funds.

We’re tired of talks. Discourse and dialogue is nice, but dollars makes more sense to the average person. Having a financial hold and being put into collections has serious negative impact outside of college. This practice is disruptive and humiliating. Having an account in collections ruins your credit, lowers your credit score and it takes 7 years to clear after its paid.

Now you can’t go to school and your credit is ruined which can you disqualify you from jobs, housing rentals or mortgages and some schools won’t allow you to attend if you’re on financial hold or have loans in default. This doesn’t make sense for schools with BILLION dollar endowments.

Equity and inclusion includes addressing economic disparities. Colleges and universities are still struggling with income inequality and having diverse faculty and staff. I don’t know about other schools, but UPenn still has work to do. They are one of the best schools. They have a phenomenal research hospital that’s an asset to the community and they are one of Philadelphia’s biggest employers.

Yet, for all the great things UPenn is, it has a ugly history of displacement and gentrification. UPenn doesn’t pay taxes to the City of Philadelphia to have a it’s own University City in the heart of West Philadelphia. As a student, I loved the UPenn experience! I had the honor and privilege of meeting literary greats and discovering my life’s work. I’m scratching to get back and graduate, but as a former employee I experienced several dehumanizing incidents of blatant and unchecked bias and discrimination from faculty and staff.

As a Black woman, I’ve found working in higher education’s elitist and often racist environment to be toxic and seeing how Black and brown students are treated and how faculty and staff advocates are often targeted, silenced, ignored or banished is traumatic.

When you combine the history with the environment and the financial hold and collections practice, you see the institutionalized academic, and economic oppression and abuse of power and privilege. This needs to stop!

If college presidents want to make real change, they’ll invest in equity and not performative activism. The next pictures and statistics we need to see are how many students re-enrolled or who’s lives are no longer on hold because you set them free from college debt and economic bondage.

Until justice becomes accessible and affordable to all…Invest in equity!

Thank you

Sources:

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Writer, Founder WEOC and Editor of Writers and Editors of Color Mag Bylines in Zora, Momentum, An Injustice!, POM, Illumination, The Pink, and Better Marketing

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