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Lessons from an HBCU’s demise

9/11/2013, 2:16 p.m.
This fall, as college campuses opened their doors to the bustle of students, one historically black institution remains silent. In ...
The Saint Paul's College building

This slow bleed will continue as long as the tighter standards are in place. As the president of the UNCF, Michael Lomax, has recommended, the Department of Education should find a way to preserve financial aid instead of undercutting the students it is supposed to serve. Meanwhile, it is encouraging to see that the department is allowing families with small-scale debt—black, white, or otherwise—to become eligible for PLUS loans through an appeals process.

The loan program is only one part of the solution, however. Congress should also increase funds for Pell Grants, financial subsidies for low-income students that do not have to be repaid. According to a UNCF study, 42 percent of all HBCU students come from families with incomes lower than $25,000. More than half qualify for Pell Grants. HBCU’s are only as strong as their students, and their students often need significant financial support. An expansion of the Pell Grant program will help support historically black colleges and, for many first-generation college students, help disrupt generations of family poverty.

Historically black colleges and universities like Saint Paul’s College are an integral part of African-American history, and they need to remain an integral part of our country’s future. As we write Saint Paul’s obituary, we must not allow other colleges to suffer a similar fate. Let us recommit to James Solomon Russell’s vision, which mirrors the larger vision of the HBCU community: a school for every student, a lifeline for every dream.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and chief executive of the NAACP.