Over the weekend, Kamala Harris—the junior senator from California and presidential candidate—announced her student debt relief plan for black college graduates interested in entrepreneurship and I was not impressed. Take a look at her tweet for yourself and then I’ll take a deeper dive into it.
Yesterday I announced that, as president, I’ll establish a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell Grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities. https://t.co/ldwuC9RiIE— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 28, 2019
About 44 million people account for the $1.6 trillion student loan debt in America. As a result, the wealth gap has been widened. In an outlined report, Reducing the Opportunity Gap: Investing in HBCUs and Black Entrepreneurship, on her campaign site, Harris proposes that she will “make investments that create opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to bring great ideas into the marketplace and grow the small business engine of our economy.”
As a part of that investment, she states that one of the ways that black students will benefit is if they are “Pell Grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.”
Although there are concrete solutions in her plan, here’s the issue that I have with it. When you look at the facts and figures as it relates to black Pell Grant recipients, most students and graduates come from disadvantaged communities. Pell Grants typically are awarded to families that have an annual household income of $50,000 or less. As a result, many first-generation and low-income black students and graduates accumulate more debt than their white counterparts.
In fact, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit in Durham, North Carolina, “Half of Black graduates owe more on their undergraduate student loan after four years than they did at graduation, compared to 17% of white graduates. Even a degree is no shield from racial disparities: Black bachelor’s degree graduates default at five times the rate of white bachelor’s degree graduates, and are more likely to default than whites who never finish a degree.”
With that information at hand, my question to Sen. Harris is: How do you expect black people to win at entrepreneurship in the very communities they’ve struggled in and sustain a business for three years (in which they might accrue more debt) just to be qualified for your program?
The same way that Harris highlights the difficulties black entrepreneurs face when starting a business is the same way she ought to examine and highlight predatory lending to black students and the impact that borrowing has on their financial futures and the barriers that it creates—from homeownership to starting a family let alone a business.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
At the end of the day, this plan sounds good. But, it’s hard to believe that the privileged poor, doubly disadvantaged, and low-income graduates will win at entrepreneurship with the stipulations associated with Harris’ plan.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not necessarily the opinion of Black Enterprise.