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National Urban League Calls Attention to Financial Aid Issues From African-American Perspective

Tapped by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to contribute to the Reimagining Aid Delivery & Design (RADD) project, the National Urban League (NUL) has released “Education Transforms Lives: Postsecondary Affordability Survey and Focus Groups,” a survey paper that largely discusses the views of African-Americans on financial aid and college access. The paper is intended to bring the views of African-Americans to the Gates Foundation-sponsored effort to shape reform of the U.S. college financial aid system, according to NUL officials.

“We know that we bring a needed voice to the conversation—on behalf of students who—due to income level, financial aid literacy, and historic underrepresentation—are most in need of higher education financial aid and support services,” says Chanelle Hardy, the National Urban League senior vice president for policy and executive director.

“As time passes, the salary gap between high school graduates and those with associates or bachelor’s degrees continue to grow—particularly for African-American and Latino students,” notes Hardy, who is one of the NUL report’s three co-authors.

Among the paper’s conclusions, the NUL recommends that the federal government offer mandatory financial aid literacy classes for students and families. The NUL urges the government to require that institutions provide more transparency about their costs. The group also suggests the development of “postsecondary affordability simulation workshops” and urges the federal government to modify how it determines student loan interest rates.

“Combining our organization’s historic approach to postsecondary education and the responses from our internet survey and focus groups, we arrived at four overarching principles we believe will help ensure that Black or other underrepresented students are afforded equitable postsecondary opportunities to attain a meaningful degree or credential that will allow them to ascend the ladder of economic mobility,” the NUL report states.

NUL project manager and paper co-author Hazeen Ashby says the organization expects to base much of its higher education lobbying efforts this year around the findings in its RADD paper.

As one of the nation’s most visible civil rights organizations, the NUL focuses on bringing economic empowerment to African-Americans and other minorities. The organization, which is convening its annual Legislative Policy Conference this week in Washington, has been among the groups, including think tanks and college access advocates, involved in the Gates Foundation project. Last fall, 16 organizations were awarded grants totaling $3.6 million to complete RADD financial aid reform papers and the NUL report is said to be the last to be released in the project’s initial phase.

RADD papers are expected to “offer an original perspective on how financial aid can help more students be successful in college.” Foundation officials have said that RADD’s purpose “is to spark a robust discussion about how financial aid can be used as a lever to increase student success, especially for low-income and middle-income students.”

According to the Gates Foundation, the RADD project has two specific goals: “(1) to shift the national conversation on federal financial aid toward ideas that will make college more affordable while giving students the support and encouragement they need to earn their degree or credential; and (2) to seed the field with innovative policies that can make that happen.”

To complete its 17-page report, NUL officials developed and administered an informal Internet survey that captured more than 600 responses and they hosted seven focus groups around the U.S.

Focus group sessions were held in Atlanta; Flint, Mich.; New York City; Portland; San Diego; Savannah, Ga.; and West Palm Beach, Fla. Participants in the survey were predominantly African-American women and ranged in ages from 18 to 40, with educational backgrounds from high school graduate to graduate degree attainment.

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