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Morehouse College Is Offering A Program To Help Black Men Complete Their Degrees

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When David A. Thomas first became president of Morehouse College, the historically Black men's college in Atlanta, he started to notice something right away.

DAVID A THOMAS: I went to a number of alumni events, and it almost never failed that someone would pull me aside and say, is there some way I can finish my degree? I feel this amazing connection to Morehouse. It did so much for me. But for one reason or another, they never actually got their degree.

SHAPIRO: More than 2 million Black men in America are in this situation, according to the Census Bureau. They started college but never earned a degree. So Morehouse developed a plan to help some of them reach the finish line - an online degree program with reduced tuition for men who already have some college credits. President Thomas joined me to talk about why he thinks this new initiative is so important.

THOMAS: We know that having a college degree versus having a - only a high school diploma - there's a million-dollar difference in lifetime earnings, on average. We also know, quite frankly, that for Black men to get opportunities, their credentials matter more than the credentials that a white male has to present. So a white male might get a break if they've got lots of experience but they don't have a college degree. I know from 30 years of researching the influence of race on careers that Blacks don't get that same benefit of the doubt.

SHAPIRO: So tell us about how you overlay this challenge that you are trying to address with this program onto the issue of the student debt crisis, which is also a drag on people's ability to thrive today.

THOMAS: Well, one, this will allow students to get through with their college degrees in a shorter period of time. Also, one of the reasons we know that individuals don't finish college in their early years - you know, the usual 18 to 23 period - is that they run into financial difficulties. They then find themselves in stable employment but need avenues to complete their degrees, so the affordability challenges become less over time if you find stable employment. And lastly, we think we've set tuition at an affordable level, and students can set their own time clock for how quickly they finish.

SHAPIRO: Am I right that credits are going to cost about half what they would for an in-person Morehouse education?

THOMAS: That's right. Credits will cost about $600, and our on-campus tuition is about $1,125 per credit.

SHAPIRO: How many students do you hope to serve through this program?

THOMAS: Originally, we were thinking that over the course of the next five years, we would serve a thousand. I actually think we will serve at least twice that, and here's why. When we announced on February 2 that we were going to have - be launching this program in August, within 24 hours, we had 2,000 inquiries. Within 72 hours, we had over 5,000 inquiries.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

THOMAS: That's more applicants than we got last year to our on-campus flagship program. I've gotten several letters from individuals who would have graduated in a Morehouse class in the 1960s who never finished, who are signing up to come to the program because at a personal level, they want to complete themselves.

SHAPIRO: President David A. Thomas of Morehouse College, thank you for speaking with us about this new program.

THOMAS: It's been my pleasure, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF UYAMA HIROTO'S "YIN AND YANG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.