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Report: Shrinking Number of Black Students at UT-Knoxville, Other Public Institutions

About half of Black student borrowers who entered college in 2004 defaulted on their student loans within 12 years. (Adobe Stock)
About half of Black student borrowers who entered college in 2004 defaulted on their student loans within 12 years. (Adobe Stock)
August 11, 2020

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Most public colleges and universities are failing to enroll numbers of Black students representative of their state populations - and that includes the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, according to findings by The Education Trust.

The Trust's Senior Director Tiffany Jones said in the midst of a national cultural and political reckoning over racial equality, the data paint a bleak picture of the current state of higher education access for Black students. She said at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, only 7% of students are Black, while 21% of Tennesseans are Black.

"This means that UT-Knoxville would have to triple their share of Black students that it enrolls in order to meet the statewide population -- a responsibility the institution has as a public college or university in the state," Jones said.

Meanwhile, Black student debt is on the rise, and research shows associate's degree borrowing in particular has spiked among Black students over the past decade. At public institutions, around 57% of Black associate's degree recipients borrow, compared with 43% of white students.

Jones said Black students and their families are being uniquely impacted by the student-debt crisis.

"Black students are more likely to have to borrow for college. They have to borrow more, they struggle more with repaying their loans, and they are more likely to default on their student loans than their non-Black peers," she said.

She noted even Black students from higher-income households end up defaulting on their student loans at rates seven times higher than white students from families with similar incomes.

Jones said Congress could take up the issue of canceling student debt, as the coronavirus-fueled recession is likely to be felt hardest by students of color. She added some colleges already are implementing debt cancellation as a way to help students complete their degrees.

"At Wayne State University in Detroit, and now the community colleges in Chicago are also going to be trying this - where they forgive a portion of students' debt to try to re-engage them to get them to re-enroll and finish their programs," Jones said.

While the recent CARES Act put a temporary pause on student loan payments until the end of the year, Jones believes without aggressive action, student-loan default rates will worsen.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN