St. Louis Graduates Names McKendree University in Report Highlighting How Colleges and Universities Can Support Low-Income Students and Black Students

(LEBANON, Ill., July 15, 2020) – On July 15, 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 graduate with less debt. McKendree University is one of five universities leading this charge.

The report highlights strategies at five institutions 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 four other universities highlighted in the report are: Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and Webster University in St. Louis.

“We are pleased to be recognized as one of the top five institutions of higher education in the St. Louis region that graduates low-income and Black students with less debt,” said McKendree University President Daniel Dobbins. “At McKendree University, we strive to invest in students who show potential to achieve academic success and make a real difference in their communities. Through generous financial aid packages designed for each individual student, we are able to provide a robust, four-year, residential college experience at a highly affordable price.”

“I am delighted to know that McKendree University was selected as a school that graduates Black and low-income students with less debt,” added Dr. Christine Bahr, provost. “The diversity of our student body is one of the hallmarks of McKendree University. It is a joy to work at an institution where students of color serve as leaders among their peers and are so actively engaged in the life of the community.”

The report finds several common themes among colleges effectively supporting low-income students and Black students, including a focus on affordability, 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 it 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 at Southeast Missouri State University.

Launching with the release of the report on July 15, a new “Degrees with Less Debt” video series focuses on the barriers facing low-income and Black students and what colleges and universities can do to create a higher education system that supports them. KeShon Spraggins, a McKendree University business management major and honor society student from St. Louis, appears in a video.

“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.

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.

To register for this virtual event, visit and join on Wednesday, July 15, at 2 p.m. via the link for the series premiere and immediately following at 2:30 via Twitter at #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.