How the Election of Barack Obama as President of the United States Will Impact African-American Higher Education

To most of the nation’s 37 million African Americans, the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States was nothing short of a miracle. But now President-elect Obama has a monumental task ahead of him. He must work to unite the nation, strengthen the economy, fight terrorism, end the war in Iraq, and make tough decisions on healthcare reform, social security, energy development, and a host of other important issues.

But what will the election of Barack Obama mean for African-American higher education?

The mainstay of the Obama plan for higher education is a $4,000 tax credit for all college students. That credit — not a deduction — will cover two thirds of the average cost of tuition at a four-year public college or university. The tax credit would effectively make community college virtually cost-free for students. Under the Obama plan, the tax credit will make funds available for families to pay tuition upfront, not simply reimburse them for tuition expenses when they get their tax refund many months or even a year later.

Low-income students will also have Pell Grants and other financial aid programs to help with the remainder of the cost of attending college. In fact, Obama plans to increase the maximum Pell Grant award to keep pace with inflation and to meet the rising cost of higher education. In past years, the GOP has opposed and essentially blocked any significant increase in Pell Grants for low-income students.

Obama plans to eliminate the complicated application process that students must go through in order to qualify for financial aid. The current Free Application for Federal Financial Aid is five pages long and has over 125 questions. Research has shown that many black and other minority students don’t apply for financial aid because of the difficulty in navigating the process required to obtain aid. In 2004 about 1.5 million students did not apply for a federal Pell Grant even though they were eligible for it.

Obama has proposed a $25 million annual fund to help states develop early assessment programs. These programs are geared toward low-income and minority students so that they can determine if their high school course track is placing them on a path that will qualify them for admission to college.

Obama has also proposed the creation of a community college partnership program. Funds will be made available for programs that will help community college students transfer to four-year colleges after completing their two-year associate’s degrees. Other programs will facilitate the path for community college students to make a smooth transition to the work force.

Unlike the Bush White House, the Obama administration is unlikely to pressure colleges and universities to end race-sensitive admissions programs or race-based scholarships earmarked for black and other minority students. Obama is also likely to appoint federal judges who will look favorably on these programs that are important to African-American college students.

Obama also has a host of proposals that will boost preschool, primary, and secondary education so that black and low-income students will be better prepared for college.