Numerous black women-centric websites have reported on a report issued by the United Negro College Fund which declares that black women are enrolling in college in record numbers–numbers higher than any other race, ethnic group, or gender. According to the report, 1 in 10 black women are enrolled in a college or university. One reason this finding may be a mixed blessing is because black women are second to last–only ahead of black men–in college completion rates. So, if black women are enrolling in college, but not completing college, then these women may actually end up worse off for having attended–they now have student loan debt, but no degree which can be used to garner a position which will boost their earnings to pay off the loans.
But there may be another problem created by the high rates of black female college attendance and low rates of college completion–student loan debt makes it harder to get married because few people want to begin their married life with thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loan debt hanging over their heads. Also, going to college may be the default option for black women who cannot find an intimate relationship that will lead to marriage.
What I’m saying is this: Such high rates of black women attending college are, at least in part, due to so few black women being married. Perhaps, instead of seeking a degree, more black women should be seeking a husband?
Let me make myself perfectly clear, though: Black women who graduate from high school and have the aptitude for college-level work should almost certainly enroll in college with the end goal of completing at least a bachelor’s degree. College degree holders still earn more money and have lower unemployment rates on average than non-college degree holders. Black women also need to attend college to build their social network. Black women with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely than black women of all other educational levels to get married and stay married. However, attending college in their late 30’s, 40’s, or even later, or attending college to attain a graduate degree that won’t boost their chance of being promoted at their current job is probably costing black women far more than they gain.
I don’t believe that black women are receiving appropriate career and life counseling before they make the decision to pursue these extraneous degrees. For example, according to career/life counselor Penelope Trunk, who received her information from the career pay site Payscale, women’s salaries top out at 38 years old. And we all know that those who are trying to change careers will suffer due to ageism–employers don’t want to hire someone in their mid-thirties or older for an entry-level position. Trunk also says that, “By your mid 30s, if you don’t have a specialty, it’s hard to get your salary into the next bracket. Also, don’t give up hope if you have no idea what you’re doing in your mid-20s. As long as you figure things out by the time you’re 30, you will get a premium for 15 years of experience before your salary stops rising.” Yet, black women are going to school well into their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, in the hope of earning more money in a field different than their current one–something unlikely to happen–and they are ruining their financial lives in the process by taking on a burdensome debt level. Where are these black women getting their advice/counseling from?
As I have perused the web reading student loan debt horror story after student loan debt horror story, I’ve found myself struck by the number of people drowning in debt who were either single parents and/or who had gone back to school in their 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s to get a degree. Often times, the person was both a single parent AND a non-traditional student in terms of their age. An example: The story of a Miami, FL-based attorney with 3 children who is now in over $180,000 in student loan debt. One of my first thoughts was, “Where is the father (should this be plural?) of these three children, and what is he contributing to the upbringing of these girls and the maintenance of the household in which they live?”
One dating advice book written by two African-American males is titled “Your Degree’s Won’t Keep You Warm At Night.” In the case of black women, like the Miami, FL based attorney referenced above, their degree’s aren’t even helping them pay off their student debt or maintain a halfway-decent credit rating.
Human beings are social creatures. We crave love and understanding, physical comfort, and the company of people with whom we can happily socialize (even if that ‘company’ only consists of one or two other people whom we rarely see). We need to have our basic human desire for security fulfilled. What we don’t need–in the sense of it being a physical need–is another college degree hanging on the wall which won’t provide an actual increase in earnings, earnings which may in turn provides funds which can be used to pay for greater physical security.
We know that black women are not dropping out of college in order to get married because black women also have the lowest female marriage rate. Black women are not getting husbands, so instead they are attempting to get a college degree.
I think that, in lieu of finding a husband who can share the burden of raising children, supporting a household, and paying off student loan debt, black women are instead choosing to get a college degree that they hope will provide the financial benefits which a husband usually provides–and the results are not working out the way that these women hoped.
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil