The Color of Student Debt: Implications of Federal Loan Program Reforms for Black Students and Historically Black Colleges and Universities

September 2014

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Robert Kelchen, Jason Houle

In this paper, we explain why discussions must take into account a critical issue conspicuously absent from most public debate about reforming higher education financing, and student loans in particular: There is a substantial racial disparity in families’ need to borrow for college, such that black students depend much more heavily on access to loans than white families, and leave college with a great deal more in student loan debt than their white counterparts. Extending college opportunities to all Americans is critical to sustaining the national economy and providing hope for future generations. Efforts to deal with current student debt problems must be careful to address the root causes and not punish prospective students, so as to produce solutions that do not inadvertently limit the college prospects of any group.

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