Matching money, finance training key parts of new program for New Orleans HBCU students – NOLA.com

The New Orleans Business Alliance and United Way are partnering with New Orleans’ three historically Black universities to lessen the financial burden on students and encourage them to stay in New Orleans after graduation.

The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Student Prosperity Project will support 45 students at Dillard University, Xavier University and Southern University in New Orleans, representatives from those colleges and the New Orleans Business Alliance and United Way of Southeast Louisiana said at a news conference on Thursday.

The program will provide money for students, as well as financial education courses.

“HBCUs disproportionately enroll students who have substantial financial needs and limited access to additional financial resources,” said Kim Rugon, vice-chancellor of institutional advancement at SUNO. “This HBCU Prosperity Project provides access to resources and tools that will allow our students to make sound financial decisions about credit usage, savings and investing their money.”

The program offers students a $2,000 match if they save $500. The amount will be sent to the universities on their behalf to pay for education expenses. Students will also have access to credit counseling and financial training.

“I think the biggest impact is knowledge,” Rugon said. “Getting them more aware that once you finish your education your credit is so important, your savings is so important. It’s critical that students put a little nest egg aside because once you graduate you’re not guaranteed to get that job.”

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Students will also network with professionals in their fields of interest through 504ward, a nonprofit that seeks to attract and retain young professionals in New Orleans. 

“College students are facing challenges in meeting living expenses despite the fact that increasing numbers of students are working full- or part-time jobs,” said Michael Williamson, president and CEO of United Way of Southeast Louisiana. Even with college loans, financial aid and support from their families, many students need to work while in school. Many students also finance their education with credit cards, he said. 

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The administration building on the Xavier University of Louisiana campus in New Orleans, La. is shown on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. 

“If they’re able to graduate, stagnating wages and increasing living costs make it exceedingly difficult for students to pay down loans or debts and begin to obtain assets for heir futures,” Williamson said, citing research from the ALICE report, a United Way study of families who make more than the federal poverty level income level but still struggle to make ends meet with low-paying jobs and few resources. “Sadly, 60% of households led by people under 25 living in New Orleans are living in poverty.”

The Student Prosperity Project is an adaptation of a United Way program that uses a similar matched savings model for low-income individuals and families gain assets like a home or an education.

Norman Barnum, interim CEO of New Orleans Business Alliance, said he hoped the program would entice young talent to stay in New Orleans and give them “less of a financial burden with the knowledge of how to take care of their finances during their studies and after graduating.”

“New Orleans cannot thrive unless we have our young people deciding to make their home here and our young people cannot thrive in New Orleans unless we as business leaders make the investment in them,” Barnum said. 

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Marie Fazio writes for The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email her at MFazio@theadvocate.com or follow her on Twitter @mariecfazio.

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