WASHINGTON — The leaders of Morgan State, Bowie State, Howard and eight other historically black universities warned President Barack Obama last month that new limits on federal lending to parents would produce a "devastating impact on student enrollment" in the coming school year.
The university leaders asked the president, in a letter dated July 30, to reverse a step the administration took in October 2011 to tighten underwriting standards for parent loans. Low-income parents shut out from federal financing, they said, would be unable to pay college bills, forcing many students to withdraw from school.
"We are alarmed by the harmful effects this policy change has had on access to college nationally," they wrote. Among the signers were presidents David Wilson of Morgan State in Baltimore, Mickey Burnim of Bowie State in Maryland and Sidney Ribeau of Howard in Washington, D.C.
Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced measures to help applicants who were initially rejected secure parent loans through appeals. He also pledged to open talks in the spring on possible revisions.
The question for advocates of historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, is whether those responses will suffice. The HBCUs serve a high share of students in financial need and have been disproportionately affected by the federal government's tighter lending standards.
Wilson said Morgan State expects to enroll as many as 300 fewer undergraduates in the fall than the school's target of 6,900, a drop he attributes largely to the parent loan issues.
Another educator who signed the letter to Obama said he was "totally unsatisfied" by the administration's response.
"At no point have they gone back to fix the initial problem," said Carlton Brown, president of Clark Atlanta University. "It's precious hard to explain to struggling parents who have been trying to figure out how to get their children into college since forever," Brown said.