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Supports an Aggressive Plan to Increase Pell Grants and Other Programs to Help People Afford a Secondary Education

WHEREAS, student loan debt has reached crisis levels in the United States. The nation's borrowers now owe an astounding $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt, meaning more than 44 million Americans have student loans. College debt has increased 170 percent since 2006 and is second only to mortgage debt and surpasses even credit card debt; and

WHEREAS, as far back as 2007, the NAACP called for the Federal government to take action to make a post-high school education more affordable, with its resolution from that year entitled "NAACP Supports Legislative Initiatives to Make College More Affordable and Accessible to All Americans;" and

WHEREAS, a college degree is increasingly important: college-degree holders earn over 65 percent more than workers with only high school diplomas, and the unemployment rate for workers with a college degree is less than half that of those with only a high school diploma; and

WHEREAS, among the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans. The average four-year college graduate leaves school with roughly $30,000 in debt; and

WHEREAS, student loan debt disproportionately affects communities of color. For people of color, even a bachelor's degree is not a safeguard against crushing debt: Families of color are more likely to need to borrow for higher education, will have less income with which to pay the loans, and have less of a cushion to withstand future financial shocks, thus contributing to a higher likelihood of delinquency and default on student loan debt. African American bachelor's degree graduates default at five times the rate of white bachelor's degree graduates, and are more likely to default than whites who never finish a degree; and

WHEREAS, in 2016, 42% of African American families had student debt compared to 34% of white families. Moreover, African American students hold $7,400 more in debt than white students at graduation; and

WHEREAS, women – and particularly African American women — are more likely to struggle with student loan debt. Approximately 34 percent of all women and 57 percent of African American women who were repaying student loans reported that they had been unable to meet essential expenses within the past year. Women graduate, on average, with $2,700 more in student loan debt, and because they earn about 26% less, paying off their debt takes significantly longer; and

WHEREAS, each year, more than 7.5 million students rely on Pell grants to afford college. The vast majority of Pell recipients have family incomes under $40,000. Pell grants make higher education accessible to groups which have historically been shut out of colleges and universities, including racial and ethnic minority American students, as such 60% of African American undergraduates and almost half of Hispanic or Latino undergraduates rely on Pell Grants to attend school; and

WHEREAS, the federal government changes the maximum Pell grant award amount every year. The 2019-20 maximum is $6,195, $100 more than in 2018-19. All eligible students receive at least 10% of the maximum award amount for the year, depending on financial need. Pell Grant recipients are already more than twice as likely as other students to have student loans (57% vs. 27%). More than 8 out of 10 Pell Grant recipients who graduate from four-year colleges have student loans, and their average debt is $4,500 more than their higher income peers; and

WHEREAS, the money available for Pell grants has been eroding for decades. In the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant covered over half the cost of attending a four-year public college. In contrast, the $6,095 maximum Pell Grant in 2018-19 covers just 28% of the cost of college; and

WHEREAS, for-profit colleges are a major driver of student loan debt. For-profit, post-secondary institutions are more expensive than other schools, and borrowers are less likely to be able to repay their loans when they leave. Unfortunately, because a disproportionate number of students at for-profit colleges are low-income students and students of color, this means that the burden of large loans and very little to no educational benefit is higher among those populations; and

WHEREAS, the rate of homeownership, one of the most important ways to build wealth, has returned to fifty-year lows and the African American homeownership rate is as low as it was when the federal Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. One contributing factor is student loan debt. Research from the National Association of Realtors has demonstrated that student loans are leading to serious delays in home purchases, with the average student loan borrower delaying the purchase of their first home by an average of seven years; and

WHEREAS, in 2013-2014, the average total cost of attendance at all HBCUs was 26 percent lower than the average total cost at all four-year non-profit colleges; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Education has ended a years-long information sharing agreement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and has signaled, via the Federal Register, that it no longer intends to routinely share information with other federal and state law enforcement agencies; and

WHEREAS, several states have already begun to take legislative and enforcement actions related to unfair and deceptive practices of student loan servicers and for-profit colleges; and

WHEREAS, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recognizes that student loan debt is a $1.5 trillion crisis, and that this crisis disproportionately affects people of color therefore perpetuating the "racial wealth gap;" and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress can and should make it possible for any American to attain a post-secondary degree or credential without going into debt.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP reaffirm its 2007 resolution; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP will work through state legislatures and the federal government to support affirmative legislation addressing the student loan crisis, including reforms of for-profit colleges and student loan servicing; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP supports increased aid for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); increasing both discretionary and mandatory aid to these institutions is essential to their survival.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP urges the federal government and the states to increase funding for low-income students to attend college, including increasing federal Pell Grants to their original (1965) value.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the NAACP will work to restore Pell grant's automatic annual inflation adjustment, which expired after 2017-2018.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP demands that the U.S. Department of Education reinstate information sharing policies with other federal and state enforcement agencies. 

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