September 29, 2023

No, college is not the only way to be successful

By: Roy Douglas Malonson

While we definitely promote higher learning in the Black community, we need to stop telling our children that it’s the only way to go. There are other alternatives that lead to success without our children incurring a bulk load of debt before they even land their first jobs.

The richest Black man in the world made one of the biggest acts of philanthropy in America by paying off the student loans of the entire Morehouse class of 2019. While Robert Smith’s generous contributions are something to be applauded, where does this leave the rest of Black students with immense amounts of student debt?

Like damn-near everything in America, race plays a significant role in the amount of debt acquired after students graduate from college.

Recent studies from Education Data report that Black college graduates owe close to $25,000 more than their white counterparts.

Almost 48% of Black students owe 12.5% more than they borrowed four years after graduating college, and are most likely to struggle financially due to monthly payments of $350 or more.

To make matters worse, more than 50% of Black graduates report that their net worth is less than what they owe in student loan debt.

Our students depend heavily on scholarships to pay for school and graduate with the least amount of debt possible. How many white students do you see earning one to two million dollars-worth of scholarship money to pay for college? Not many. Whether it’s trust funds, savings, or funding from Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), white students do not depend solely on scholarships, grants and loans, as many of our Black students do.

“You have to go to college to be successful,” is a widespread belief within the Black community. But the reality is, the debt that comes with this education leaves graduates in financial shackles for the majority, if not the rest, of their lives.  This college education that supposedly gives Black students a better chance in life has proven to keep generational wealth and home ownership far from the grasps of the Black community.

We can’t keep portraying college education as the epitome of success. Our graduates end up with a rude awakening and find themselves in the same positions as people without college degrees.

Not only do we push the narrative that college is the end-all, be-all, we also unintentionally put down our youth who are not ready for college.

The reality is, college is not for everyone, and that’s okay. It is not that the youth who choose not to attend college are lacking in intelligence and ability, some people find it better to start their careers straight out of the gate. Our immediate focus should be providing and promoting alternatives to college, while helping our college students graduate without suffocating debt amounts.

We have lost focus of teaching our youth the value of trades! Within the past three decades, we’ve witnessed a shift in the American school curriculum. Vocational classes like cosmetology, wood shop, auto mechanics, home economics, etc. have all been replaced with college prep and the ridiculous method of shoving information down the throats of our students just for them to regurgitate it during unrelentless testing. Our youth are so talented and learn in many different ways, but the American education system constantly reinforces the notion that if you do not conform to this method, you are a failure.

There’s something sinister about the claim that a degree-less high school graduate has nothing more than a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant in their future.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce states that there are over 30 million recession and pandemic resistant jobs that pay over $55,000 annually and do not require a bachelor’s degree. That is compared to the average salary of college graduates that sits around $50,000 a year and $30,000 worth of debt.

It is also imperative that we instill the spirit of entrepreneurship in our communities, and it begins with our youth. That is why rapper, actor, and philanthropist Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s contribution to underserved Black schools in the Houston Independent School District is a huge step in the right direction for our students.

The new Houston resident has already set his sights on turning young Houstonians into the new business leaders of tomorrow. 50 Cent is teaming up with HISD and the Horizon United Group, led by prominent businessman and philanthropist Al Kashani, to build entrepreneurship programs at Wheatley, Worthing and Kashmere high schools.

The program, named the G-Unity Business Lab, was funded by a $300,000 donation from 50 Cent and a matching $300,000 from HISD.

The business lab aims to prepare students to learn about the life cycle of a product – from concept to branding – through MBA-level courses.

The program is set to start in fall 2021, and will end the year with a Shark Tank inspired competition judged by 50 Cent, Kashani, and other community leaders. Winners will receive money to start their businesses within their communities.

“It’s great to be giving back to this community that’s already given me so much,” Jackson said at the City Hall press conference alongside Mayor Sylvester Turner, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and HISD interim superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan. “These young kids can do great things if they just have the right skills and tools. This program is going to help get them there.”

Perhaps we can take a page out of 50 Cent’s book and equip our youth with ‘the right skills and tools’ to help them succeed. With the racist practices embedded in our current school systems, we have no choice but to teach our students how to survive without college. We must constantly remind our youth that it is possible to be successful without a college education. Our college graduates, trade school graduates, and entrepreneurs are the key to breaking financial generational barriers in the Black community.






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