St. Louis Graduates to Release 2020 Degrees with Less Debt Report

New Video Series Highlighting How College and Universities Can Support Low-Income Students and Black Students

Two-thirds of all jobs require a postsecondary degree or certificate, but when it comes to education beyond high school, opportunity is not equal. Many barriers hold back low-income students and Black students. On July 15th, St. Louis Graduates will release Degrees with Less Debt: Postsecondary Strategies that Enhance Low-income and Black Student Success, a new report identifying what colleges and universities are doing to support low-income students and Black students to graduation with less debt.

The report highlights strategies at five colleges attended by St. Louis area students that stand out in a statistical model as enrolling significant percentages of low-income students and Black students and supporting them to graduate with less debt.

The report was commissioned by St. Louis Graduates and authored by Janet K. Holt, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE).

“The Degrees with Less Debt research focuses on what is more important – ensuring students not only enroll in college but graduate with a degree that benefits them and our community – and doesn’t put them into debt for the rest of their lives,” said Amy Murphy, Chair of the St. Louis Graduates Degrees with Less Debt Task Force that guided Dr. Holt’s research and Director of Donor Relations and Scholarships at St. Louis Community Foundation.

The five highlighted universities in the report are: McKendree University (Lebanon, IL), Southeast Missouri State University (Cape-Girardeau, MO), University of Central Missouri (Warrensburg, MO), the University of Missouri – St. Louis (St. Louis, MO) and Webster University (St. Louis, MO).

The report finds several common themes among colleges effectively supporting low-income students and Black students including a focus on affordability, including need-based financial aid and financial aid advising that helps students make informed decisions about debt; institutional leadership committed to equity; pro-active academic supports; and critical wrap-around services, including mental health. While the report acknowledges that much has been done at highlighted institutions to support low-income students and Black students, interviews conducted for the report indicate significant additional work needs to be done for students, particularly Black students, to feel safe and supported in college.

“The only way we can reach our goals for a trained workforce is to focus on degree completion for low income students and Black students. The Degrees with Less Debt research gives St. Louis Graduates and its partners a play book for how we work toward equity in degree completion,” said Trent Ball, Co-Chair of St. Louis Graduates and Assistant Vice President for Academic Diversity and Outreach, Academic Support Centers, Southeast Missouri State University.

“We are excited about the new Degrees with Less Debt video series which highlights the perspectives of students and those of us in higher education and in the community who want to help them achieve their goals,” said Melissa Findley, Co-Chair of St. Louis Graduates and Executive Director of Missouri Scholarship & Loan Foundation.

Launching with the release of the 2020 Degrees with Less Debt report on July 15th, the new video series Degrees with Less Debt will focus on the barriers facing low-income students and Black students and what colleges and universities can do to create a higher education system that supports these students. The video includes interviews with administrators and students from each of the five institutions highlighted in the report, as well as community partners.

A Twitter chat will follow the release of the report and video to foster discussion of key issues raised within the video including: how the systemic barriers of race and class are holding back students, how the COVID 19 era has exacerbated inequities, and why collaboration engaging institutions, community partners and students is the path forward.

Individuals interested in registering for this virtual event should visit and join St. Louis Graduates on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 2:00 PM via the above link for the series premiere and immediately following at 2:30 via Twitter at @STLGraduates using the hashtag #DWLD for the post episode discussion.

The new report is the second in a series of Degrees with Less Debt reports commissioned by St. Louis Graduates. The first, released in 2017, identified effective policies and practices of four-year colleges and universities graduating low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color. That report led to a collaboration among five Missouri colleges (Maryville University, Southeast Missouri State University, University of Central Missouri, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Webster University) subsequently recognized as a Talent Hub, one of 26 collaborations supported by Lumina and Kresge Foundations for accelerating degree completion for underrepresented students.

About St. Louis Graduates
St. Louis Graduates is a collaborative network of K-12 and higher education, youth serving non-profit organizations, business and philanthropy committed to eliminating equity gaps in postsecondary educationa attainment for low-income students and Black students. St. Louis Graduates is a component fund of St. Louis Community Foundation.