Ask an Expert: Ajamu Loving, UNT Dallas

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Ask an Expert: Ajamu Loving

EXPERT: Ajamu Loving, Ph.D., serves as assistant professor of finance at UNT Dallas. Having earned his Ph.D. in Personal Financial Planning from Texas Tech, where he was an AT&T Chancellor's Fellow, Dr. Loving has dedicated his life to making financial planning more accessible and to diversify reach. It's no wonder he landed at UNT Dallas, our southern Dallas campus created to close the education gap. At universities and colleges across the country, Black males are severely underrepresented. This is an issue that Dr. Loving is passionate about reversing. In our latest "Ask an Expert" series, Dr. Loving discusses why this problem exists, what can be done about it, what UNT Dallas is doing to recruit and enroll more Black male students and the consequences if campuses fail to increase the number of Black males pursuing college degrees. 

Q: With few exceptions, public colleges and universities are enrolling and graduating too few Black students when compared with their state’s Black population – Texas included -- and the underrepresentation is even more severe for Black males. What are some of the fundamental reasons keeping Black males from enrolling in college on par with their percentage in the population?

Dr. Loving: Deciding to make an investment in higher education is an economic exercise just like any other decision. Young Black men are weighing the costs of education against the perceived benefit of that education. So current employment opportunities available to young men graduating high school can act as competition for colleges and universities seeking to attract students with promises of future higher income. If a young Black man is in need of current income or expected to provide said income to his family, he has pressure which increases the likelihood of him choosing to work immediately or choosing a more brief form of education to meet those more immediate needs. 
This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the average Black family has only 10% of the wealth of an average white family. Making investments and foregoing immediate income is an easier choice when you have stored wealth to support yourself in a pinch. Wealth gives individuals a broader universe of real and perceived options. Likewise, a lack of wealth tends to narrow one's vision and make them more focused on what can happen in the immediate future. Being less myopic and more forward-looking is difficult when your current situation demands financial attention.

Q: While enrollment at UNT World's three institutions is minority-majority, the number of Black males on both campuses is quite low. What can universities and colleges do better when it comes to the entire of process of recruiting and enrolling Black males? 
Dr. Loving: Universities can do better about communicating their entire value proposition more clearly to Black families. A bachelor’s degree raises the median wage of a Black man by $10,000 per year, compared to a raise of $6,100 per year for a white man.  That means that the relative payoff for a young Black man securing a college degree is higher than that of a white man. If a young man saved and invested that $10,000 yearly from age 22 to 65 at a modest 8%, he would have almost $3.3 million of wealth accumulated over those 43 years. That's really a tough number to ignore. Young Black men desperately want to be wealthy and successful. Colleges and universities need to communicate directly to these young men in a manner that they understand and consistent with the value that they can bring and the opportunities they create. Show these young men what is possible and lay out a real vision. 
Q: UNT Dallas was created to close the education gap and provide an accessible, affordable option for urban Dallas students, many of which come from low-income families and are often the first in their families to go to college. While the university’s enrollment continues to grow --  eclipsing 4,200 students in Fall 2021 for the first time  – Hispanic males outnumber Black males almost 2 to 1. What steps are being taken to recruit and enroll more Black males at UNT Dallas?
Dr. Loving: The university facilitates all manner of methods to create a connection between the community and the university faculty and staff. Many professors (myself included) sit on advisory boards for high school programs which focus on the faculty member's field of study and create opportunities for mentoring and influence. There are more young Black men in these high schools than in college and therefore this a great environment to cultivate interest. Also, representation matters. The UNT Dallas School of Business ran an entire campaign highlighting the Black male professors serving as faculty and how they themselves felt education impacted them and could be transformative for the lives of their students. Outreach is important and representation is important, too. They need to see successful Black men achieving and building wealth based on their educational attainment. They also need to realize that this is also something that is possible for them. Highlighting the affordability, options and flexibility of that education is paramount and we are getting the word out.

Q: What are the consequences of a low percentage of Black males going on to college? And what would the benefit be if the percentage of Black males in college were to rise significantly?
Dr. Loving: 
The consequences of a low percentage of Black males going to college is a comparatively lower income for Black men and Black families. Wealth inequality that we already see is likely to increase if there are lower percentages of Black males in college. In short, we could be moving backward as a society. Most of the high-paying jobs of the future require a college degree and many require higher education beyond the degree. Having a lower percentage of Black men qualified for these opportunities will make success more difficult in Black communities. The converse is also true. Having a higher percentage of educated and market-ready Black men who are receiving higher payoffs for that education is likely to help move toward solving some of these economic inequality issues. It's time for us to boldly state our value to those who could benefit most. Helping young Black men to understand the value and accessibility of education is key to the future of our communities and ultimately our country.