Along with university officials and local lawmakers, several black NIU students came to the event to talk about their own challenges paying for school.
Gabrielle Sims is a junior at NIU.
She said low-income and minority students can often miss out on college experience.
“You have to work a job that pays but you also want to get experienced in your field," she said, "but the internship is unpaid, and they're both the same amount of hours. You know you've got to pick between paying your phone bill or getting experience in your field to build your resume."
The reports found black students disproportionately take on more loans to pay for college, and at higher rates of interest than their white peers.
But that’s if they can even afford to continue their degree at all.
“I know too many people at NIU, too many good students at NIU," said Sims, "who have had to leave because they didn't get their MAP grant like they used to."
The reports call for an increase in MAP grant funding and other need-based aid targeting low-income and underrepresented students.
Glennita Williams is a senior at NIU studying political science. She said she’s seen a lot of friends -- black students -- who have had to drop out because they simply couldn’t afford to continue their education.
“I was able to get grants and my first semester, but my dad had a pay increase, which kicked me out of state grants,” said Williams. “So that's that equity versus equality because I had that opportunity, but no longer able to do that because of a situation.”
Williams said, in her case, even though NIU did a good job helping her find scholarships and grants so she can finish, she's still going to graduate in a few months with $50,000 worth of debt.
In the past decade, black student enrollment has dropped across the state everywhere except at for-profit institutions. Those colleges are also more costly than public or private-non-profit schools.