More than 2 million Black men who pursued a higher education never finished their degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The reasons range from college affordability to family responsibilities to military service.
Morehouse College wants to help them reach the finish line.
Starting this August, the historically Black men's college in Atlanta is offering an online program with reduced tuition for men who already have some college credits.
Morehouse College President David Thomas got the idea for the program while attending alumni events, not long after starting his tenure there in 2018.
"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," Thomas told NPR's All Things Considered.
He said the program's flexibility will allow students to "set their own time clock" for when they complete their degrees. Students enrolled in the program no longer need to be on campus to earn credits, and don't have to stick to the regular academic calendar.
The school will charge about $600 per course credit, cutting the cost for online students by about half. Thomas, thinking of his brother who at age 57 went back to school to pursue his degree, said this opportunity opens up new avenues for older age groups as well.
The new program also offers a launching pad for future advanced education opportunities, he said, "for individuals to deepen their education and go to graduate school and professional school."
Research links higher education levels to higher pay. In 2019, the median weekly earnings for workers with only a high school diploma was $730, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while workers with a bachelor's degree earned about $1,200 a week.
Thomas said that for Black men, education credentials carry greater weight when it comes to future opportunities. Whereas white men "might get a break if they've got lots of experience but they don't have a college degree," he said, "Blacks don't get that same benefit of the doubt."
Initially, he said, Morehouse aimed to open up the program to 1,000 students over the next five years. But due to a flood of interest, "I actually think we will serve at least twice that."
Within three days of the school's announcement earlier this month, he said the school received over 5,000 inquiries about the program — more applicants than it saw last year for its traditional on-campus program.
Jason Fuller and Connor Donevan produced and edited the audio version of this story.