Hard Lessons in Education Funding - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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Toward the end of the 2007 fall semester, Erin Jackson went from tears of joy to tears of sorrow when she was forced to withdraw from Howard University, her dream school, after only one semester of studies.

Her financial aid package included a Federal Pell Grant, a need-based grant for low-income students, and a Stafford loan, which is distributed to most students regardless of credit worthiness. They covered tuition but did not provide the Cincinnati native enough money to pay for the dorm where freshmen are required to live.

Also included in her package was a $20,000 Federal Parent PLUS loan, but no one in her family was eligible for the fixed-rate loan. Despite her mother having lost her job, Jackson was still ineligible for Howard’s need-based institutional aid because her expected family contribution, a measure of the family’s financial strength used to determine the amount of federal financial aid to reward, was too high.

“I was distraught. I’d worked so hard all my life to get into the school of my choice, and now I was realizing that it just wasn’t enough,” says Jackson, who, in search of financial support, launched a letter-writing campaign to alumnae and school officials. “I just wanted to be heard.”

For too many low-income, first-generation college students like Jackson, the newly opened door to higher education can be a revolving one. These students were nearly four times more likely to leave college after the first year, compared to students who had neither of these risk factors, according to the Pell Institute’s 2008 report “Moving Beyond Access“.

Jackson’s letter-writing campaign was successful, and the art major and aspiring fashion designer was allowed to register and attend classes. She worked at DSW, a shoe retailer, part time and joined a tuition-reimbursement ROTC program that would pay her tuition for three years. But she still had a $3,386 balance to pay before she could re-enroll for the spring semester and accept the ROTC scholarship.

“At first [I thought,] I can do it. [But with time], I got tired, my grades started to slip, my hair fell out, and there were points where I did not sleep for hours,” says the 20-year-old who had  a 3.0 GPA at her college prep high school and managed to keep it at Howard, despite her hardships. “There was always something in the back of my head saying, you still need to pay for this. You might not be here next semester.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.

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