Just over three years ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a piece I wrote entitled, “Morris Brown: Can this college be saved? Leader says it can.”
The article began with two hashtags, #restoremorrisbrown and #thehardreset. These phrases became our mantra and played a pivotal role in energizing alumni and strengthening community support for Morris Brown.
Well, we have made history by restoring Morris Brown College through what we call the Hard Reset; the first historically Black college and university to be restored after a 20-year hiatus. We mobilized a nation of supporters through social media. Many told me I was crazy to even try.
Today, Morris Brown stands fully accredited, and the college has been reinstated to participate in the Federal Financial Aid Program. Financial aid can be used to cover educational expenses such as tuition/fees, room/board, books/supplies, and transportation.
When I started in 2019, Morris Brown had 20 students — today 250. With the restoration of financial aid and accreditation, we have been able to grow our enrollment more than 1,000%, and this was accomplished with a limited marketing budget. This is just the beginning. As a priority during this resurrection of sorts, I informed our Board of Trustees that it was my goal that our students graduated with little to no debt and that we should be one of the most affordable colleges in Atlanta.
After months of discussion, analyzation, and considering other data, Morris Brown settled on one of the most affordable tuition rates in a major metropolitan city at $4,250 a semester. We acknowledge the many successes, but we also understand that we have more work ahead as we reposition the college to her rightful standing among institutions of higher learning.
In recent news, President Joe Biden announced millions of federal student loan borrowers — those who are Pell Grant recipients — will see up to $20,000 of their debt canceled. I still owe myself. I do not want my students to go through what I am currently going through paying back high loan debt.
In June 2022, the Education Data Initiative stated that Black and African American bachelor’s degree holders have an average of $52,000 in student loan debt. Black and African American college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than white college graduates. Other data sources show that four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed. Black and African American student borrowers are the most likely to struggle financially due to student loan debt.
Here are several ways that Morris Brown College intends to address the issue of high student loan debt. We are seeking philanthropic partners to assist us with this lofty goal that our students graduate debt-free. Yes, I said it — debt-free. It is my goal to completely change the higher education model.
Most students, especially Black students, rely on student loans and aid to be able to attend college. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the federal Pell Grant program provides more than $4 billion to African American college students each year. Many of these students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Without the Pell Grant program, hundreds of thousands of young Black students would not be able to afford college. According to the United Negro College Fund, more than 70% of HBCU students are federal Pell Grant eligible (government funding that does not have to be repaid).
With federal funding now available, students who are Pell eligible could receive up to $6,895 for the 2022-23 award year (July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023). Students attending school year-round — in fall, spring, and summer — could receive up to 150% of their scheduled award.
With Morris Brown’s tuition being $8,500 a year, this funding would greatly assist our students, meaning many students could attend Morris Brown and graduate with little to no debt. In some cases where students receive other scholarship and aid, Pell eligible students could get a refund to attend Morris Brown.
A major untapped market that many HBCUs are not taking advantage of is purposefully catering to the working adult student. This is an area that helped for-profit colleges boom for many years. The nontraditional working adult demographic served as the majority of our students during our unaccredited years between 2004-2021. One of the major advantages that many working adults possess is the ability to utilize employer tuition benefits. Tuition reimbursement is tax deductible up to $5,250 per employee per year, making this program cost-effective for companies. By utilizing company tuition assistance with MBC’s already-low tuition, students may be able to graduate with little to no debt. Moreover, a search has shown that many of the major corporations that offer such benefits are located right here in Atlanta, including Amazon, Best Buy, Bank of America, FedEx, Starbucks, UPS, Wells Fargo, and Verizon, just to name a few. We want to strategically partner with all of these companies so their employees can graduate with little to no debt.
Morris Brown College sits in the Vine City community, near the historic Booker T. Washington High School, which happens to be the first public high school for African Americans in the state of Georgia and in the Atlanta Public Schools system. The Achieve Atlanta Scholarship is a need-based award designed to support APS students pursuing various postsecondary paths after high school. Students who graduate from APS with a 2.5 GPA are eligible for a four-year college scholarship in which Achieve Atlanta will award $5,000 per year (renewable for up to four years of school). The student must maintain satisfactory academic progress to keep the scholarship. This scholarship was designed to assist in closing the gaps and reduce the need for students and families to take out high-interest, private loans to pay for school. In the case of APS students selecting Morris Brown as their education institution, this scholarship means much more, as it will cover almost 60% of the tuition; and in the likelihood that the student is Pell eligible, the remaining balance could be fully covered. With the reinstatement of Title IV funding, Morris Brown has also been approved to use VA benefits for military students.
For 141 years, Morris Brown College has had a culture of access for students. As we continue to fully restore the institution to her former glory, it is our quest that we not only offer a quality education, but students earn their degrees and not be saddled in high debt. We will continue to be that haven for all hungry souls through what we call the Hard Reset.
To learn more about Morris Brown College, visit morrisbrown.edu.