The Important Role of HBCUs in Higher Education and Why They Need More Support

Education Landscape

Sallie Mae Hosted Delaware State University President Dr. Tony Allen to Discuss Significance and Support of HBCUs

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) comprise only three percent of the country’s colleges and universities yet produce almost 20% of all African American graduates. In a post-pandemic era with economic challenges disproportionately hitting underserved and underrepresented communities, choosing an HBCU is critical for so many students’ higher education experience.  

Dr. Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University – the state’s only HBCU – and Chair of the Historically Black College and University Advisory Board under President Biden, recently visited Sallie Mae’s Newark headquarters to share insights about the role HBCUs play in advancing access and completion in higher education, and how the private sector can further support those efforts. For Sallie Mae, supporting HBCUs has remained a focus, particularly through scholarship programs and financial education initiatives. Dr. Allen and Sallie Mae Chief Diversity Officer Lori Aiken spoke spiritedly to a standing room only audience and over 500 more telecasted about the value of an education at HBCUs and how they help in building a stronger, more inclusive, higher education system.

Some highlights and key takeaways from that conversation:

1. HBCUs play a critical role in our country.

“Today’s 101 public and private HBCUs graduate more than 300,000 students annually; generate nearly $15 billion in direct economic impact; and produce 80% of Black judges; 40% of Black science professionals; 70% of Black medical professionals, and 40% of Black Members of Congress. In no small measure, HBCUs are the driving forces of Black social mobility, the defining voices of Black America, and a critical part of American global competitiveness,” Dr. Allen said. 

2. Scholarships matter for minority students and students from underserved communities.

Scholarships open the door to higher education for students and families who otherwise may not have access to the opportunities. Delaware State University’s Inspire Scholarship provides a free four years of tuition to qualifying Delaware high school seniors. Students with a 2.75 GPA and a willingness to complete 10 hours of community service each semester are eligible.

Since launching the Inspire Scholarship, Delaware State University has seen a 15% increase in its enrollment.

“Not only are you getting a four-year tuition scholarship, but you’re also getting a quality education and citizenship training that comes with it,” Dr. Allen said.

To help support college access and completion, Sallie Mae partnered with The Thurgood Marshall College Fund to offer $3 million in scholarships to students from underserved communities.

To date, more than $1.5 million has already been awarded to students across the country. More than 70% of recipients of the company’s Completing the Dream Scholarship program — which removes financial barriers in the way of college completion – attended HBCUs.

3. Higher education needs reform to better serve those who need public support.

Dr. Allen shared a few ideas for building a stronger higher education system, speaking about the importance of increasing funding for HBCUs to put them on a more equal playing field with predominantly white institutions.

Dr. Allen also spoke about the importance of colleges increasing their graduations rates — a top focus at Delaware State — and encouraged the federal government to triple the Pell Grant.  Closing gaps in college completion for Black students will take improving graduation rates at HBCUs; changing enrollment patterns so that selective institutions enroll more black students; and increasing the support that students receive in college so that they can persist through graduation day. 

Sallie Mae is proud to be a leader in supporting HBCUs and their students. As the title sponsor of the HBCU Week 2022 College Fair in Walt Disney World – an event that draws more than 3,500 college seeking students to connect with HBCU representatives – Sallie Mae recognizes the significance of HBCUs, their rich history, and the ability to impact thousands of students looking for the opportunity to attend college. It’s opportunities and conversations like these that help Sallie Mae continue to transform into an education solutions company, as is our focus on additional services to support all students to, through, and immediately after college.

Five Things to Know About College Completion in America

Education Landscape

In 2020, around 19.4 million students started their first year of college in the fall, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By the end of four years, 40% of those students will earn a degree, which increases to a 60% completion rate at the six-year mark.

To better understand college completion, Sallie Mae® and Ipsos conducted a new research report, How America Completes College, looking at students’ journeys to college graduation, barriers to completion, and opportunities to support their success. The study compares the perceptions of higher education among Completers (young adults ages 18 to 30 who have completed a 2 or 4-year degree) and Non-Completers (young adults ages 18 to 30 who started a 2 or 4-year degree but withdrew before completing the program).

Five findings from the research include:

1. First-Generation Students Need More Support

Nearly 70% of Completers have at least one parent who graduated from college, compared to 51% of Non-Completers. This suggests that for first-generation students, degree completion rates tend to be lower.

Previous research has also shown less than one-third of first-generation students plan to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), a key step to receive financial aid.  This supports findings that first-generation college students require additional financial, academic and social support while completing their program.

2. Completers are Confident and Committed to Higher Education

Nearly three-quarters of Completers said they decided to attend college before reaching high school, with 60% saying they “always” knew they would go. Nine-out-of-ten Completers were confident a college would accept them, and 89% felt sure they’d graduate.

In comparison, more than half (55%) of Non-Completers decided to pursue higher education after they started high school; 34% decided to attend college during their junior year or after.

One more critical difference: Nearly 60% of Completers were confident in their family’s ability to pay for their degree.

3. Completers More Likely Had a Plan to Pay for College

Completers were more likely to prepare for college by discussing the application process with their family, taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, and preparing to pay for school.

Overall, 42% of Completers had a plan to pay for college education before while only 26% of Non-Completers had a plan. 

Research has also underscored the connection between planning to pay for college and maximizing the choices a student has when selecting a college. 

4. Completers View College as Investment

An overwhelming majority of Completers — 82% — consider a college degree an investment in their future, compared to just 58% of Non-Completers. 

Moreover, 60% of Completers knew the exact career or the general field they wanted to work in when starting college.

5. Non-Completers Don’t Feel Supported

Nearly all Non-Completers – 92% — report being motivated by a parent, teacher, high school counselor or friend to go to college, but once on campus they lose that sense of support.

More than 40% of Non-Completers rated resources for academic, financial and mental health as fair or poor. This lack of support is compounded by the issues Non-Completers report, including difficulty prioritizing mental health, struggling to find the right career path or major, and financial difficulties.


These findings demonstrate the importance of talking regularly about the options for higher education— including trade and vocational schools — and options to pay for those schools.

They also highlight the need to provide financial support to first-generation college students, low-income students and those from traditionally underserved communities who are more likely to be at risk for not completing their degree or career program.

Resources should be focused on these students, so they can complete college confidently with greater access to scholarships and grants. Sallie Mae® is proud to be supporting through a scholarship program with Thurgood Marshall College Fund to help students from underserved communities access and complete college.  

It’s one of the many ways Sallie Mae® is working to ensure more students achieve their dreams of earning an advanced degree.

Building a Simpler, Less Burdensome College Financing System

Education Landscape

From simplifying the FAFSA to changing the way we approach paying for college—there are pragmatic steps we can take to change the federal college financing system so future students and families aren’t taking on debt they can’t afford. Read from Sallie Mae CEO Jon Witter ways we can improve the system and break the debt cycle for generations to come.

How Sallie Mae is Helping Expand Higher Education Opportunities

Education Landscape

Higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity and economic mobility, but each student’s journey is unique. Up until recently, a traditional path through a two-or four-year degree program has largely been presented as the ideal option for students. The reality is, however, that path may not be right for everyone. In fact, today, roughly 70% of students are considered non-traditional students, according to a 2015 report from the Department of Education. Put simply, college can no longer be viewed as a one-size-fits-all experience.

Evolving outlook on “college”

Trade schools and community colleges are a crucial part of the higher education universe. Providing hyper-focused curriculum over a shorter time, these schools can result in highly skilled professionals with a clear path. From culinary arts to coding, the expansion of career training is helping students who may not want a traditional path earn a degree that will increase their employability through hands-on training. Often, though, these programs have limited resources, and scholarship opportunities remain limited. As a result, students at these schools are left with fewer financing options — a significant barrier for many to attend.

Supporting students on different paths

Sallie Mae is working to make options accessible and ensure more students can pursue and achieve their unique goals. That said, Sallie Mae understands the importance of quality when it comes to career programs. That’s why Sallie Mae administers a rigorous review process to ensure programs will set students up for success upon completion.

For example, Sallie Mae’s partnership with United Airlines Flight Academy is helping change the face of the aviation industry by increasing the number of women and people of color in the training program. The academy aims to train at least 5,000 new pilots by 2030, half of which will be women and people of color. Sallie Mae offers responsible private student loans to help highly qualified students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access the opportunity.

Student loans aren’t the only piece of the puzzle. Although more limited, there are scholarships out there for students pursuing a professional certificate or training program. For example, The Sallie Mae Fund offers gap scholarships, including to students interested in certificate and training programs in 2021.  

It’s time that higher education better meets the needs of today’s students. Sallie Mae is committed to doing our part, providing tailored support and responsible financing to further expand opportunities in higher education that will yield a future students can feel confident about tomorrow.

How Sallie Mae Is Helping Make College More Affordable and Accessible for All

Education Landscape

The benefit and value of a higher education has never been greater, but the reality is not all students have the same opportunities. About 78% of high school students from the highest economic class enrolled in college, compared to 28% of their low-income peers. And minority students finish their degree programs at significantly lower rates than white students.

Sallie Mae® believes all students who desire to achieve a higher education deserve the support they need to make it happen. Higher education is a great equalizer, but only when students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to access and complete it.

Advancing diversity in higher education

Sallie Mae launched a variety of initiatives to help drive equity in higher education, including a partnership with Thurgood Marshall College Fund to provide minority students scholarships to not only access and begin their education journey, but also complete it. Over the course of the next three years, $3 million in scholarships will be awarded to students through The Sallie Mae Fund’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship Program:

Specifically in 2021:

Addressing unmet needs

In addition to scholarships, Sallie Mae is distributing $1.5 million — $500,000 a year — to nonprofit partners who remove obstacles to higher education for minorities and underserved communities.

In 2020, Sallie Mae supported:

  • The Point Foundation, which helps LGBTQ students access and complete college, and offers services that counter bullying, promote confidence, and build experience through internship programs.
  • Colin Kaepernick Camp, which promotes leadership and empowerment for social change in Black and brown communities.
  • National Urban League, which is working to understand how the digital divide is a barrier to Black and brown students’ ability to access and complete college.
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which supports campuses with high Hispanic enrollment.

Providing tools to students and families

Sallie Mae aims to help students and families access, afford, and complete college, and we provide a series of free online tools to make that possible.

Sallie Mae’s scholarship search features 6 million unique scholarships worth up to $30 billion. Last year, 24,000 students received a scholarship using the search tool, covering more than $67 million in college costs.

Our college planning calculator can also help students and families get ahead on saving and paying for college.

In the coming weeks, Sallie Mae will launch a new series of free products to help students research colleges, understand graduation rates and average salaries for their desired career path, and compare average financial aid packages.

Much more work is needed to close achievement gaps and increase access to, and completion of, higher education. College should be affordable and accessible for all students, and Sallie Mae is dedicated to finding and implementing solutions.  

FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid

Addressing Racial Gaps in College Graduation Rates

Education Landscape

Increasing financial support for students of color is an important first step.

Students of color are not graduating from college at the same rates as white students, and they are more likely to experience financial hardships that make it difficult to complete their degrees. In an op-ed published in The Hill, Sallie Mae® CEO, Jon Witter, and Thurgood Marshall College Fund President and CEO, Dr. Harry L. Williams, address the growing racial gap in college graduation rates and how Congress can begin to fix it.  

Addressing disparities in educational attainment will require Congress to enact a number of reforms, and a good place to start is increasing financial support for Black, Hispanic, and Latino students at risk of delaying their degrees or dropping out. To that end, Sallie Mae and Thurgood Marshall College Fund launched the Completing the Dream Scholarship to support thousands of students at risk of not returning to school or graduating due to a financial situation.

“This is our nation’s moment to get this right and to invest in graduates, not just in attendance,” Witter and Williams said.

Click here to read the full op-ed in The Hill.

Female Teen Studying

Higher Education Financing is Complicated. Here’s How Sallie Mae is Helping Students Make Sense of it All.

Education Landscape

Millions of students enroll in college, vocational school, or certificate programs each year, eager to learn. Before enrolling, they face a lot of decisions, including where to attend, and how to pay for it.

Wading through the details of higher education financing choices (and forms) can be confusing, especially for first time students. Navigating the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and comparing multiple financial aid offers from schools can leave many families scratching their heads, not fully aware how the decisions they make today may affect their lives tomorrow.

We get it. And it’s why Sallie Mae® has made a commitment to help students make sense of their financing options – whether or not they end up choosing to borrow from us. By helping students understand their options, we’re not only helping them make smart, thoughtful financial decisions, but also we’re powering them with confidence to achieve their goals.

Understanding Financing Helps Students Achieve Their Dreams

Helping students unlock the power of higher education begins with making it easier for families to understand the full range of financing options available before they apply for assistance and loans.

The philosophy we use to counsel these families is fairly simple:

  1. Start with money you won’t have to pay back. Loans should never be the first option to pay for college. In fact, they should be the last. Students should supplement college savings and income by maximizing scholarships, grants, and work-study. After all, the best money is what you won’t have to pay back. This is why we provide a free scholarship search tool with access to 6 million scholarships worth up to $30 billion. Last year, more than 24,000 students received a scholarship through our search tool, covering more than $67 million in college costs.
  2. Explore federal student loans. We encourage students to explore federal student loan options by completing the FAFSA. Too many families skip the FAFSA because of the complicated process, which means they’re potentially missing out on thousands of dollars in financial aid.
  3. Consider a responsible private student loan. Sometimes, after accounting for savings, scholarships, and grants, and federal financial aid, there’s still a gap. That’s where a responsible private student loan can make sense. Often secured with a cosigner, these loans go through underwriting to ensure customers will be able to manage them successfully. Our lending philosophy also encourages students and their families to evaluate all anticipated monthly loan payments and how much the student expects to earn in the future before considering a private student loan.

This approach is working. Roughly 9 in 10 of Sallie Mae loans in repayment are being paid on time, and with less than 3% of loans default.

When our students are able to make informed decisions about financing their higher education plans, they are empowered and more likely to achieve financial independence after school. The correlation between graduating and future success is clear and unmistakable. People with a bachelor’s degree typically earn 66% more — $1 million more over their lifetime — than those with only a high school diploma.

Tools for Everyone

Earning a degree is critical to success in today’s workforce. It’s why our financial literacy products are available for free to anyone — whether they hold Sallie Mae loans or not. From planning calculators, to estimating monthly loan payments and future costs, we want smart planning and preparation to be part of every student’s higher education experience.

We’re proud of our financial products, and we’re proud of the students and families using them to achieve their dreams. Sallie Mae isn’t just financing private student loans — we’re helping create America’s future.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid