Urban Ed Express, the loan company launched last year by BET founder Robert Johnson, promises to not only help students prevented from pursuing a college education because of financial barriers, but to encourage financial literacy in the Black community as a whole, Johnson told an audience at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators conference on Monday.
The association estimates that 400,000 students each year fail to realize their higher education dreams because of a lack of finances. The new loan company, part of Johnson’s initiative to make college affordable, is part of a bank that will also branch out into the mortgage and other markets.
One of the factors Johnson says holds Black students back, especially those that come from big families as he did, is the feeling that the cost of college would be a burden on their parents, who are already struggling to make ends meet, but it’s not.
“You are not robbing your parents or cheating your brothers and sisters for wanting [a college education],” said Johnson during a discussion moderated by Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist, Ed Gordon.
Johnson said borrowing money for school should not be looked at as debt. “Debt is what you pay with an interest rate, education is an investment.”
Though the qualifications students and parents must meet to be eligible for the UEE loan is similar to that of other loan services, including having a “positive credit history” or a cosigner who does, Johnson says if a student lacks these prerequisites there is still hope.
The company would conduct a comprehensive background check to determine the circumstances for the poor credit. The company would consider the circumstances, whether it was due to a death or temporary job layoff, and create a loan package that meets the student’s or family’s needs.
“We don’t start with the assumption that you have bad credit [thus you don’t qualify], if so [we are excluding] everyone. [Bad credit] happens to good people,” Johnson said.
The services provided include Stafford, Parent PLUS, private and federal consolidation loans. Those who consistently pay on time qualify for an interest rate reduction.
The Urban Ed Express is affiliated with Urban Trust Bank, which is owned by an investor group led by Johnson. RLJ Companies, also founded by Johnson, “provides strategic investment and direction in and for a diverse portfolio of companies in the financial services, real estate, hospitality/restaurant, professional sports,” according to the company’s Web site.
Gordon said parents and students must research the college loan process because choosing a loan provider is far more complex than picking a company because they are minority friendly.
“You have to do you homework as a consumer and give it a good hard look before picking a company.”
Dr. Edward Wright, dean of student services at Laney College, in Oakland, Calif., says although the conference was the first time he heard about the loan company, he is intrigued by Johnson and the quality of the service and will share the information at the college.
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