Is College Worth It for Black Women?
Why are some educated black women strapped for money?
I am a part of a cohort that is dedicated to providing engaging experiences beyond the classroom. For the last couple of months, we have been discussing how to engage our target populations. These populations include nonwhite people, men, individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds, international individuals, etc.
One meeting, we were charged with selecting a podcast, listening to it, and guiding reflection on the podcast episode in the next meeting. I listened to Inside Higher Education’s podcast, THE KEY with Inside Higher Ed: Ep13 — “Equity and Higher Education Policy.”
In my reflection, I discussed there is a pandemic melt in students because many students and their families are considering other opportunities beyond college. I expressed how students are considering the current landscape that we have now because of the pandemic and the realistic cost and value of higher education. Students now have the option of working in the Gig Economy, having companies hire and pay for their education or certificate right out of high school, or they have the option to obtain an online certificate at a fraction of the cost. Most students who take this route will probably not have the burden of paying back student loans or spending four years in a school setting to only graduate making about $35,000 a year; or being underqualified due to years of experience.
I concluded my reflection by sharing personal stories of people who I know who used quarantine to become certified in various fields, and now these people make nearly six figures. One person I know made $10,000 a month after receiving their certification. Not with a degree, but with a certificate.
To wrap up my reflection, I asked the cohort if higher education is even worth it anymore considering these factors? How can we convince students who may see their peers’ starting businesses, being recruited by jobs who will pay to train them, getting online certificates then being recruited by companies to make our salary or more with little to no experience, that attending college is still worth it?
In our last meeting, the conversation about engaging target populations was brought up again. To begin the discussion, the facilitator read off statistics on how higher education is not paying off for black students, specifically black women.
Everyone in the room seemed shocked except for me. Many had questions of why college is not paying off for America’s most educated demographic.
So why isn’t college paying off for black women?
1 in 4 black women have student loans
According to the Census Bureau, Black women are most likely to have student loans. The Association of University Women’s analysis cites, Black women have the highest average total of student debt, with $41,466 for undergraduate and $75,085 for graduate school one year after graduating.
Most black women must take out student loans because historically black families lack wealth and income. According to Dennie, in 2016, the net worth of the median Black household was $17,150, while that of the median white household was $171,000. This is true even if our parents have a college degree and “good paying” jobs. Dennie cites that on average black households with a degree hold less wealth than white households who do not have a high school diploma. The median net worth for Black families with a college degree is $70,219, while white households with less than a high school diploma is $82,968.
For many in the black community, we see degrees as vehicles for upward mobility. So, we apply for the student loans with the belief that the degrees will pay off and provide us a means to acquire financial stability and a better life for ourselves and the next generation.
Black women don’t make a lot of money
According to the Association of University Women’s analysis women’s anticipated salary right after graduation is $35,338.
Once we graduate, the reality that degrees don’t equal success sets in as we begin to apply for jobs. In addition, we learn about the covert bias many companies embody within their culture that can stagnate our financial and leadership growth.
Black women face both gender and racial wage gaps. According to the National Women’s Law Center black women make 63 cents for every dollar white men make. Researchers estimate that Black women, on average, lose $2,009 each month, $24,110 annually, and $964,400 over the course of a 40-year career, according to the law center.
Black women are paid less to do the same jobs at the same educational level as white men and other people of genders and races. I have read countless articles about black women finding out their direct reports who have less experience and of different races making more money. When these black women do ask for more money, their employers put them through hoops and hurdles to eventually be denied or given a raise that is still a fraction of what everyone else is making. From my observation, black women are in a constant cycle of doing more work for less reward or benefit.
Black women are financial caretakers in the black community
Most black women are not only behind because they are in jobs that don’t pay enough and owe large amounts in student loans, but black women take on the role of financial caretaker for most families.
The movie Soul Food, is a great example of this. Teri, who is the oldest sister and the only one in the family with a college degree, took care of everyone in the family. She was the only one who people would call if they were in a financial bind. The family would gaslight her if she said no, had reservations about helping or giving money, or if she asked for the money back.
Teri is a prototype for what the meeting’s facilitator described with the statistics about black women noting they are expected to provide for their grandparents, parents, their family, and trying to save for their future grandchildren. Many black women go to school, get seemingly good jobs, then while trying to focus on personal responsibilities, family and friends begin to ask for financial support. As mentioned by Lawrence, pushing back, and encouraging others to create opportunities for financial stability can result in your family creating narratives about you being uppity, cheap, or selfish. These narratives can be extremely harmful as person may find themselves choosing between fulling personal responsibilities or taking care of their family’s financial commitments.
Considering these factors, do you think black women should invest in a college education?