By Tauleece Thomas, Esq.
Financing a college education is often one of the most daunting tasks that parents face on their parenting journey. There are so many questions to ask and answer as our children approach that ultimate decision of where they will matriculate after high school: Do we take out loans? Do we do the community college route? How can we find enough scholarship money to meet the need? Along with these very real questions of finance, many parents are also struggling with questions about which type of university will best suit their children. Should they send them to a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) or an HBCU (Historically Black College or University)? In our community, the love for HBCUs is sometimes jaded by the belief that HBCUs are “too expensive”. This misguided premise truly amazes me because HBCUs were founded to provide educational opportunities to those with the most limited resources. Have costs increased over the years? Absolutely! But so have the offerings and opportunities that HBCUs make available to our community. So, let’s explore some options, ideas and avenues for removing the “too expensive” moniker from any conversation about our beloved HBCUs.
You might be wondering, “Who the heck is this chick?” Well, I am a proud HBCU graduate (Howard University Class of 1992). I am the wife of a proud HBCU master’s program graduate (Prairie View A&M University Class of 2013). I am the mother of a proud HBCU graduate (Prairie View A&M University Class of 2016). And I am the mother of two proud, current, HBCU students (Prairie View A&M University Classes of 2018 and 2020). Yes, I am ALL ABOUT the HBCU journey! I value it! I love it! I live it!
Even before we became parents, my husband and I made TWO decisions:
1 – Our children would attend HBCUs for their undergraduate education.
2 – Our children would NOT take out loans for their undergraduate education.
To make these decisions feasible and attainable, we decided to adopt several mantras…philosophies…or family premises:
A’s = MONEY You can pay for school with your MIND You can GET PAID to go to school
Our family hashtag: #wedontpayfordegreesaroundhere
Our family hashtag is one that we take VERY seriously. Being able to “pay for school with your mind” is a very real and attainable goal. It does take a bit more of a concerted effort on the part of parents and students, but it is completely feasible to not pay one red cent for your child to attend some of the best institutions of higher learning that this country has to offer. Excuse my colloquialism for a moment, but “ain’t NO education like an HBCU education”!
By now, you’re thinking, “Ok, sista…I’m with you on this. But, HOW do I do it?” I’m glad you asked that question…. here we go:
THE INTERNET IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
There is this WONDERFUL thing called the internet….and with a search of the right terms, parents and students will find a whole world of obscure and unknown scholarships that are out there and available. Since we homeschool, we simply turned “Scholarship Search” into a required course in the 11th and 12th grade year for our students. The vast array of scholarship search websites that are available is astounding. And while much of the information will likely be duplicative from one site to the next, there is always the possibility of finding hidden gems on one site that aren’t available on all sites. Make your internet search relevant to the schools and areas of study that your student is interested in pursuing. Also, access experienced counseling for scholarship search assistance. If your student is in public or private school, consider requiring him/her to establish a regular meeting time with the school guidance counselor as a way of staying informed and aware of scholarship opportunities and deadlines. This should be done at the beginning of the high school career, NOT in the last year.
KNOW THE TYPE OF SCHOLARSHIP THAT YOUR STUDENT IS MOST LIKELY TO BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE
Understand the difference between merit-based scholarships, which are based on academic performance, and need based scholarships, which are based on financial need. For example, because of our family’s income level, my children have never qualified for many need-based scholarships. The couple of times that they did, it was because we had multiple students enrolled in college at one time, so our need was seen as greater for that reason. There are also scholarships that are specifically for students who plan to attend HBCUs. They are available via local alumni chapters, corporate alumni chapters and endowments set up by alumni that are administered by the university. Broaden your mind and thoughts about where scholarship money may be available and then tap those sources. Apply, apply, apply, apply, apply and apply some more! Consider creating a spreadsheet list with the scholarship name, application deadline, award amount, reference requirements, and notification date as a way of charting and tracking scholarship applications. Most applications are online now, but having this document is a great way to keep a personal eye on how your efforts are progressing.
NO SCHOLARSHIP AMOUNT IS TOO SMALL
A full ride academic scholarship does not always have to come from one funding source. If a student is able to aggregate scholarship awards and cover the entire cost of his or her education, then THAT is also considered being on full academic scholarship. Don’t shun those $250, $500 or $750 scholarships…they really do add up! The smaller dollar scholarships are sometimes the easiest to apply for and receive. A short essay, often no more than 500 words, is usually a standard requirement. So, if your student shuns writing, start working on improving his/her outlook on the power and purpose of being a good writer.
GET INVOLVED IN PRIVATE ACTIVITIES/GROUPS THAT OFFER SCHOLARSHIPS TO MEMBERS
Organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H, Jack & Jill, Rotary Clubs, Masonic Lodges and other private membership entities regularly offer scholarships for students attending college who have participated in their organizations. These scholarships are often overlooked and go unclaimed as students don’t see the long-term value in joining and participating in these organizations. However, participation in these organizations often add value to a student’s resume, impart lifelong skills and create highly beneficial networking relationships that all can, and often do, lead to more scholarship opportunities. [Editor’s note: also consider athletic organizations and remember to apply for scholarships offered by local Black Greek-letter organizations (Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, etc.)]
ATTEND PRE-COLLEGE SUMMER PROGRAMS AT HBCUs
Most HBCUs have wonderful summer programs for students desiring to gain access and exposure to what that university has to offer. These summer opportunities often provide “insider information” about scholarships that students can apply for, when applications will be available and valuable mentoring experience with university students and staff. When a student attends and performs well in a summer program at an HBCU, he/she is seen as a valued future student for that institution. Some summer programs are free, and some have a cost. But no matter the cost, the value is in the fact that the student and his/her family have made a deliberate and substantial connection with that particular HBCU.
And finally… THE MOST IMPORTANT tip for funding an HBCU education is to change your mindset and improve your expectations! If you believe and expect to be able to afford an HBCU education for your student, you will make it happen!
My husband and I are now on our third student attending an HBCU, and we have yet to pay one penny for tuition, books, room and board or fees of any kind. Our oldest graduated in 2016….completely debt free. Our two current students have excess scholarship money EVERY semester such that they never have to ask us for money for anything. Heck, sometimes, I want to ask THEM to break me off a little piece of change! Our youngest two students are already primed and ready to find their niche and pay for school with their minds as well.