Class, Race, and Student Debt

This report from Demos makes clear that student debt is disproportionately the problem of low-income and students of color.

Knowing that these students are also the least likely to make it to graduation makes the report more troubling.

  • Black and Latino students are dropping out with debt at higher rates than white students. At all schools, nearly 4-in-10 (39%) of Black borrowers drop out of college, compared to 29% of white borrowers. Around the same number (38%) of low-income borrowers1 drop out compared to less than a quarter of their higher-income peers. Nearly two-thirds of Black and Latino student borrowers at for-profit four-year schools drop out (65% and 67% respectively). Nearly half (47%) of Black student borrowers drop out with debt at for-profit 2, and less-than-2-,year institutions.
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New Report on Financial Aid

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A new report on financial aid  by the New America Foundation,  Education Trust, and Young Invincibles (and commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) calls for  “bold” federal action to ensure that college is affordable for all families.

Now, instead:

[O]ur aid system places a disproportionately large burden on families at the bottom of the income scale. Families in the lowest income quintile are asked to come up with an amount equal to 80 percent of their annual income to pay the net price (i.e., price after all grant and scholarship aid) for one year of education at a public, four-year college or university … . That’s more than five times the percentage of income high-wealth families are asked to contribute for higher education — hardly, an equitable share of the cost burden.10 The result? Rather than operating as engines of opportunity and social mobility, all too often higher education is calcifying existing inequities, shifting back toward the extreme stratification that mainly serves the elite. (emphasis added)

I understand that all of this is a complicated outcome of steeply declining state spending in a time in which many argue for a smaller federal role in education.

But I object to framing the most basic steps to make access to college equitable as “bold”.

It’s the morally right thing to do.

Layer Upon Layer of College Stratification

There’s growing evidence that college going has become highly stratified, with low-income students enrolling in community colleges and non-competitive undergraduate schools, while more privileged peers attend more elite universities.

A new study by Daniel Rudel and Natasha Yurk reported at the American Sociological Association meetings this week suggests another layer of stratification, with those who go  into debt for school reporting that they are less involved in social activities and campus life  and more focused on work.  One group of borrowers report being largely disengaged from school altogether.  According to the authors:

College leaders need to remember, she said, that debt doesn’t just allow people to enroll in college, but changes their experience there. “Debt polarizes people,” Yurk said. “There is a chance students will gain responsibility. But there is a risk students get disengaged.”