5:46pm April 16, 2013

HBCU Prez on PLUS Loan Crisis: $160M Lost “Worst Situation I’ve Seen in 35 Years”


“This is the worst situation I’ve seen in my 35 years as President,” said Dr. William Harvey, who has been the President of Hampton University in Virginia since 1978, yesterday in Washington DC.  Dr. Harvey is the Chair of President Obama’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Some 14,000 HBCU students came to our campuses last year, learned that their Parent PLUS applications had been denied and were sent back home,” Harvey said during a speech at the annual National Association for Equal Opportunity conference (NAFEO) on April 15 in Washington D.C.

Harvey was referring to the problem that hit America’s historically Black colleges and universities disproportionately last fall after the Department of Education changed the way they interpreted ”credit worthiness” and “adverse credit history” for applicants for Parent PLUS loans.  As a result, a spike of PLUS loan denials occurred as colleges prepared for the fall 2012 semester.  Over 14,600 students at HBCUs were declined loans according to HBCU advocates and college Presidents.  The five hardest hit HBCUs can be found here.


Hampton President William Harvey

Harvey echoed what Stillman College President Dr. Ernest McNealey also told Politic365 this week.  That is, that he could remember no other time when thousands of HBCU students had to leave their studies en masse as they did in the fall of 2012. Several HBCU Presidents stated they only discovered the problem after they noticed a decline in enrollment in August 2012 and began contacting each other.

“The approval rate at Tuskegee University for Parent PLUS loans plummeted from 55% last year to 23% this year,” Tuskegee President Dr. Gilbert Rochon told Politic365 yesterday. “The only way we were able to stay ‘evenboard’ with that debacle was to disgorge half a million dollars from our base budget into Perkins Loans,” Rochon added. “But that’s not a sustainable situation,” he concluded.

There was talk of a lawsuit against the Obama Administration on the Parent PLUS problem but a collective decision by HBCU advocates to wait until after the 2012 election was arrived at.

On March 21, 2013 Education Secretary Arne Duncan said schools were notified there would be a “reinterpretation” of PLUS loan qualifications in October 2011. But HBCU advocates say there was no required public announcement on the changes.  Asked where the situation stood as of yesterday, Dr. Harvey said “we’re in limbo.”

“If we just take that 14,000 [students], multiply that by $12,000 — and tuition is much more than that, some is much lower.  I took the figure of $12,000 — when you  multiply that by 14,000 students — that’s a financial impact on our institutions of $168 million dollars. That’s a lot of money,” Harvey said.  He estimates the loss to HBCUs was at least $168 million.

“If you add to that to the $148 million dollars less that we received last year from the federal agencies than we did the year before we’re talking about a $300 million dollar impact to our institutions.  There may be people running around telling you something different — but I’m telling you: it is not so,” Harvey strongly told the audience.


NAFEO Conference

In the fall of 2012, there were 371 students declined PLUS loans at Hampton University.  At Tuskeegee University in Alabama, 268 students were declined PLUS loans.  During an interview with Roland Martin on March 21, 2013 on the PLUS loan situation, Duncan gave out a phone number (1-800-557-7394) for loans to be re-evaluated.  Duncan said approvals can be granted in 6 minutes.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux said, “in the previous academic year we had 400 parents apply and 250 got it.  The following year 400 applied and 72 got it.”  Dr. Malveaux was the President of Bennett College in North Carolina from 2007 to 2012.  Several speakers at the NAFEO conference addressed the PLUS loan problem.

“HBCUs lost literally millions of dollars in revenue. The impact at my own institution — Hampton University — was some $6 million dollars.  Some of our schools may not be able to, or may not ever, recover.  Some schools lost students to nearby community colleges,” Harvey said.

“During this time of turmoil we do not have anybody advocating for us. Most of you would know that the White House Initiative on HBCUs is supposed to be out ‘in’ for the Administration. Given the budget sequestration , Pell and Parent PLUS, there is not a more critical time for us to have a fully functioning White House Initiative Office.  Unfortunately the White House Initiative  on HBCUs has not had a permanent executive director since Dr. John Wilson left to become President of Morehouse College,” Harvey said to a room of about 200 people.

President Obama is scheduled to speak at Morehouse’s commencement on May 19.  The school was forced to furlough employees after an enrollment drop.  Last fall, 161 students Morehouse were declined Parent PLUS loans.  A 5.1% cut to HBCUs due to the sequester did not help matters.   The first lady will also speak at an HBCU next month, Bowie State in Maryland.


Tuskegee President Dr. Gilbert Rochon

“It is very unfair to the Black college community that the White House Initiative on HBCUs has been without leadership for so long at such a critical time,” Harvey added.  Harvey also referenced decreases in grants and alternative ways for students to pay for college.  ”Don’t be fooled by some of the statistics that you hear. Yes, overall Pell Grants  recipients went up — but guess what — they went down at HBCUs,” Harvey said.

Many President’s of HBCU are in Washington this week for the annual NAFEO conference.  Comments about the PLUS loan situation has been pointed.  Today a group of students will rally at the U.S. Capitol and meet with members of Congress.  They are also using the hashtag #HBCUsFeedtheFuture on twitter today.

But through all of his comments yesterday, Harvey had nothing negative to say about Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Harvey and NAFEO President Dr. Lezli Baskerville have held off on criticizing Duncan. “The good news is, when we brought this to Secretary Duncan’s attention he put his team on it and we worked out that temporary fix.  Now we have to get a permanent fix,” Harvey said.

“I trust Secretary Duncan.  I trust him and I will trust him until he proves otherwise.  Just like I said publicly I’m saying it to you. I don’t say anything that I don’t mean.  I’m always very straightforward and I trust Secretary Duncan,” Harvey added during an interview with Politic365 after his speech.


Stillman College President Ernest McNealey

How should the Department of Education have handled the loan problem back in the fall of 2012? President Rochon of Tuskegee answered that question.

“The fix that was proposed by the Department of Education to then reduce requirements and to allow retroactive applications — that was not helpful.  By then, the bulk of the students whose parents were impacted were [inaudible].  So they were just gone forever and a day and either went to a junior college or not at all.  What should have happened — and they already had the people’s applications on file — they should have sent them a second letter saying ‘we’ve re-evaluated your application based upon our new criteria and congratulations here is your check’ that’s what they should have done,” Rochon said.

“We don’t have anybody advocating for us… in my judgement it is very unfair to the Black college community that the White House Initiative on HBCUs has been without leadership for so long at such a critical time,” said Harvey.  “That fact that the federal support to HBCUs is dismal ought not be a reason why these reports are not circulating,” he added.

When asked where the situation stands today, Harvey answered, “It’s in limbo right now — we don’t know what’s going to happen.  We’ve got this temporary fix…  the Secretary could clarify what is meant by “adverse credit history.”

“This is a crisis until we receive the permanent fix,” Harvey concluded.

Though Secretary Duncan was unable to attend the NAFEO conference, other representatives from the Department of Education attended the NAFEO Conference.

Calls and e-mails to the Department of Education regarding this story were unreturned.

About the Author

Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke is an opinion journalist, comms expert and political analyst focused on justice reform policy. She created Crewof42.com, a blog that covers the work of Black members of Congress, in 2009. Ms. Burke was a staffer for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and Director of Communications for Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). She has had a very diverse career in politics and media and appears regularly on NewsOneNow with Roland Martin, Hardball and Up on MSNBC, WVON in Chicago, WURD in Philadelphia and WOL and WHUR in Washington, D.C. She is currently the Managing Editor of Politic365 and a contributing writer for TheRoot and NBC Black where she writes opinion and analysis. Additionally, Ms. Burke has been a contract photographer for Associated Press since 2004. She has authored three books of photography including two on President Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency and one with Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee. Ms. Burke was born in the Bronx, New York and grew up on Long Island. She holds a B.A. in History from The American University. Here e-mail is: LBurke007@gmail.com. Twitter: @LVBurke. Instagram: LVB325.



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  1. wrldtrvlr

    Well, I just read that Obama is building Israel a missle facility to the tune of $100 million, so since Blacks voted overwhemingly for Obama perhaps the Hbcs might appeal to him for loans of at least that much since israel is not even expected to repay their multibillion $ loan gifts they receive yearly. Certainly education should prevail over war. Israel’s higher education is mostly paid for by the state.

  2. [...] resulting in an increased number of loan denials before the start of the fall 2012 semester.  These changes forced many students between a rock and a hard place.  Though students who don’t qualify for [...]

  3. Arne Duncan INACCURATE

    If a PLUS loan is denied, it is IMPOSSIBLE to get approved until ALL adverse credit is FIXED. Impossible and misleading for Arne Duncan to tell the HBCU community that an appeal can be approved over the phone in less than 6 minutes. In fact, even if a student is about to be kicked out of school and tossed on the street, yet has been approved in the past for Grad PLUS Loans or has had parents approved in the past for Parent Plus loans, the Department of Ed., will NOT REVERSE it’s denial of an application and will let students, with a 3.6+ GPAs be tossed out of school for non-payment. THANKS Obama. Seriously. I’m sure the pavement felt wonderful as students hit the curb.

  4. […] “general support” of HBCUs and UNCF, $4 million of which is to offset federal reductions in the PLUS parent loan program, which HBCU students rely heavily upon. The other $18.5 million will go toward the […]

  5. […] “general support” of HBCUs and UNCF, $4 million of which is to offset federal reductions in the PLUS parent loan program, which HBCU students rely heavily upon. The other $18.5 million will go toward the […]

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