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Survey shows debt gap among college graduates of different races

Many students are taking out over $25,000 in loans, according to a recent poll of black and white graduates. (MANJU SHIVACHARAN / THE STATESMAN)
Many students are taking out over $25,000 in loans, according to a recent poll of black and white graduates. (MEGAN MILLER / THE STATESMAN)

A recent survey by Gallup showed that 50 percent of black college graduates held more than $25,000 in student loan debt, compared to 34 percent of white graduates—almost a 20-percentage point difference that indicates the growing debt gap among different races.

Most State University of New York (SUNY) schools cost over $20,000 in total annual costs for in-state students, and private schools like Sarah Lawrence College can cost upwards of $60,000 yearly.

Many students are taking out over $25,000 in loans, leading them to spend the bulk of their early career paying off those loans, according to the poll. 

From the Africana Studies department, Assistant Professor of Literature Tracey Walters gave some insight on why the gap is so large for black students.

“Fewer families of color have access to wealth,” she said.

It is tougher for those families to establish a college fund for their children to have a head start at paying tuition, Walters said. A number of other factors, both cultural and economic, also affect this debt gap.

There has been a recent spike in the number of women of color earning degrees, which is incredible, but also driving up the debt rate, Walters said. Another factor to consider is that if students who are already receiving financial aid are taking out extra loans, it makes sense that they are graduating with extra debt.

Walters explained that nowadays, a college education is pushed on youth more than it previously was.

“Before it was that if you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t go. Now, you just take out a loan,” she said.

It has become much easier not only to go to college, but to also acquire debt in the process, Walters said. When asked about what the future may hold, Walters mentioned that she thought the gap would decrease, “but only because less people will be attending college…Those who have debt will most likely carry it with them.”

Sociology professor Boris Stremlin offered his views on the subject, explaining that as distressing as the gap is, it is not unexplained.

“There has always been an income gap between blacks and whites,” he said.

Stremlin said this gap in income has lead to the larger gap in student debt. Many families do not have the income to support a four-year education; loans need to be taken out, but for all four years rather than just a portion of the student’s college career. Stremlin explained that the majority of white students have a college fund, trust fund, inheritance, etc. set up so that they are not taking out loans for the entirety of their four years.

The Gallup survey showed that debt for black graduates has increased significantly since the ‘80s to now, from 63 percent to 78 percent, respectively.

Stremlin said this is a noticeable jump but may not be due purely to race; the number of people pursuing higher education has been rising significantly since the ‘80s, so debt has been increasing across the board.

Stremlin said this debt gap has evoked important questions like, “Does college as an investment pay off for minorities?” and “What sort of movement could this start?” He also said that with more and more students paying for higher education and graduating without jobs, it will fuel an anger and frustration, not only in black students but all students.

“With social frustrations building up, cross racial movements like Occupy Wall Street may become more and more prominent,” Stremlin said.

The cost that we take away from higher education is an incredibly common issue, but hits some harder than others. Stremlin suggested that some may lean towards increasing Pell Grants as a step forward. Stremlin also explained that on the other side of the spectrum people may take a more radical approach like abolishing tuition altogether, as Germany recently has done.

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    tonakeep5thefaithMar 31, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    We are a low income working class family that is going through this dilemma right now. My son has been accepted to some selective schools and we had very minimal guidance in this process. After the packages came back we are looking not only at the full amount of student loans allowed each year but also Parent Plus Loans at the tune of almost 20k yearly. Of course that’s if we get approved but that chance is crazy. The May 1st deadline is in a month and I’m freaking out because I don’t know where to turn and who to ask questions of.
    The few free Financial Aid offices in town have basically said it’s too much money to send your son out of state or to a selective school so they told me community college or in state college was our options. At no point in the selecting of colleges that were mostly OOS did anyone say to us that unless you can pay out of pocket or have good credit to guarantee private loans every year can your child go to these colleges. I’m baffled that all these years of hard work on my sons part and he gets accepted into some very good schools but because we can’t afford it his future is reduced to the cheapest education. I did not attend college nor did his dad so we didn’t know anything about the process. I thought he could go to college but he would have to take out student loans which would be on him to payback. I didn’t know I had to take out loans as well or have to have good credit. His student loans will not come close to putting a dent in a good OOS schools tuition and fees costs.

    What do I say to my child about his future. Being poor we are already aware that you get what you pay for so all college educations are not made equally just as all high schools are not made equally. Will he do well where ever he goes to college? Yes, he will. He will get an education but will his marketable skills prepare him for a competItive market in the area he wants to start a future in?
    For people already living in poverty and check to check taking on 100k in debt for a public OOS college is crazy! Of course it’s not in my sons best interests it defeats the point of getting out of poverty through the means of education if in the end he will only be buried in debt he will still have no future! My heart is breaking because I may very well have to tell my son that all his hard work was for nothing. If his future wasn’t on the line then it would be business as usual but your education should be your choice. After all he will still be taking on debt to go to college just a reasonable amount of debt. I hear about all these programs set up to help minority children who want to go to college but what happened in our school, where is the guidance, where is the help? We didn’t raise our son in the inner city and because of that there were no programs extended to him. We are caught in between. He had a good education and is intelligent and ready for college and excited about learning but in our journey to give him more than we had we actually may have hindered his progress.

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