NewsBlack History Month 2024


Great Jobs KC combats student loan debt among minority students

Tina Downey is enrolled in her final year at UMKC
Posted at 7:18 AM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-27 08:18:57-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The cost to attend college continues to be on the rise, leaving millions of students with high student loan debt after graduation.

According to Education Data, if you’re a student of color you’re more likely to struggle more with student loan debt, but one KC organization is changing this.

Great Jobs KC is a nonprofit organization focused on helping students get access to college scholarships, free job training and more. The nonprofit helped Tina Downey make her dream a reality.

In just a few months, Downey will graduate UMKC with a double major in communications and business, becoming the first college graduate in her family.

"My parents didn't get to go to college, my sisters and brothers weren't able to go to college mainly for financial reasons," Downey said. "To be that first one, it's really [an] accomplishment."

According to Education Data, Black college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more than white college graduates. Four years after graduation, data shows the gap widens and Black students are estimated to owe on average 188% more than their white counterparts.

"I think its socioeconomic, it's more first generation low to moderate income across all races, African American students and our Hispanic populations," explained Natalie Lewis with Great Jobs KC. "We've been really focused on getting more and more applicants, especially our Black males and Hispanic males, those numbers are up this year, it's just a matter of those that do not have someone that has gone before them to help navigate that."

Lewis is the COO of Great Jobs KC and sees first-hand the impact financial and scholarship assistance can have among students. The organization has provided scholarships worth up to $50,000 to students and adult learners, allowing them to attend colleges and universities across KC. According to Lewis, 81% of their scholars are people of color.

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"I don't stress at all about college, I have children and I have one that's still at home. I have bills, and for me, college is just another bill, but I don't have to worry about it at all," Downey said. "To get out of college and to be able to use my degree and still be debt-free, that's just one last thing I have to worry about."

This year Great Jobs KC is on track to award 1,000 $50,000 scholarships to 11th grade students, ensuring university campuses across KC remain diverse.

"It was just a relief for them (scholars) and their families to be able to dream bigger and go to colleges that they're more than qualified for, so now this enables students to get a best fit right fit college," Lewis said.