Naomi Harris is the higher education reporter for PublicSource focused on colleges, universities and research based in the Pittsburgh region. Previously, she was the K-12 education reporter for The Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland. Her reporting there focused on inequities in education, services for students with disabilities, discimination, racism and hate incidents in schools. She has also written for The DC Line and the Washington Afro American newspaper. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2017 with a dual bachelor’s degree in journalism and anthropology. While in college, she was a scholar with the White House Correspondents’ Association. Naomi has a deep passion for local reporting and believes journalism can connect communities to one another. In particular, she wants her work to elevate voices of the underrepresented and marginalized. Through a partnership with PublicSource, Naomi also is part of Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on strengthening local reporting on higher education.
The price of college has swelled over the past 30 years by more than 200%. To pay for higher education, students across the nation have taken on a staggering $1.7 trillion in student debt. But there are ways to chip away at the cost. State and local grants can help students pay at least a portion of school — including costs like housing and transit, in some cases. Some programs are more generally open to students in the Pittsburgh region or across Pennsylvania — some based on identity, grades and community work, others prioritizing lower income applicants.
In the past 30 years, tuition for one year at a public university increased by more than 200%. As rising expenses for college and rent outpace wages, more than 44.7 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.7 trillion. More than 2.1 million Pennsylvanians have unpaid student loans, totaling $71.5 billion, and the average cost for in-state college tuition in Pennsylvania for the 2019-2020 school year was $23,167.
As colleges and universities face demands to address racial inequities, there's one stark gap at nearly every campus in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Their ranks of tenured professors remain overwhelmingly white.
In the midst of teaching during the pandemic, a Point Park University professor was not too surprised when she received an email informing her she would no longer be employed after the spring semester.
Kendra Ross, a 45-year-old Black woman from Pittsburgh, used to work in the music industry and she knew what it was like to be in a cutthroat environment. So much so that she joked with former coworkers at Universal that she packed a box by the door just in case. Still, Ross felt optimistic about teaching at Point Park when she first started.
She was approached by other faculty to teach in the business program in 2018 and received her doctoral degree at the university two years later. After teaching as an adjunct faculty member, Ross was placed on tenure track in 2019. Then, in February 2021, 17 faculty members, many of whom were from marginalized backgrounds, were among those told that their contracts wouldn’t be renewed for the fall.
In the year after Floyd’s death, what has changed at Pittsburgh-based universities like Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University? Professors, students and administrators reflect on how a summer of protests and ongoing outrage, pain and vulnerability have shaped campus life.
Meet Morgan Ottley as she unpacks the lessons and challenges of remotely completing her senior year at the University of Pittsburgh following 2020’s summer of racial reckoning and protests. Morgan discusses the emotional, often invisible labor left to students when universities fall short of solidarity and the future of racial justice and accountability on college campuses. For more insights on the effects of the racial justice movement on higher ed from students, faculty, staff and administrations of Pittsburgh-area universities, check out the accompanying stories to this podcast by PublicSource higher education reporter Naomi Harris. What difference has a year made? Explore the project about calls for racial justice on campuses.