U.S. Senators Ask for Advice on How to Address Racial Disparities in Student Debt

Senator Kamala Harris

Recently, a group of four United States senators issued a statement asking for expert advice on how to address the racial disparities in student debt and the broader challenges faced by students of color in college and career training. The senators who authored the statement are Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Doug Jones of Alabama, Kamala Harris of California, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

In their statement the senators outline specific examples of obstacles that students of color encounter in higher education. In addition to lower degree attainments among minority students compared to White students, students of color are more likely to borrow, borrow in greater amounts, and are less likely to be able to pay down their debt. According to their statement, nearly 60 percent of African-American students enrolled in college do not complete their degrees within six-years, which is 26 percentages points higher than the dropout rate for White students. Of those African-American students who did not complete their degrees, 70 percent cited student debt as the primary reason.

Some African-American students still owe more than 100 percent of their loan balance 12 years after entering college, even if they complete a degree. However, White students owe anywhere between 47 to 70 percent of their loan balance after the same time period. Additionally, among bachelor’s degree graduates, the African-American-White debt gap more than triples after graduation due to difference in interest accrual, graduate school borrowing, and ongoing deeper issues related to labor market discrimination, racialized economic hardships, and family wealth. In particular, African-American bachelor’s degree graduates default at five times the rate of White bachelor’s degree graduates. African American college graduates are more likely to default on student loans than White college dropouts.

“These outcomes are staggering and unacceptable,” the statement reads. “As members of Congress, we are committed to doing better for these students and ask for your assistance in defining specific proposals the federal government can take to address these disparities.”

Anyone that would like to share their expertise, insights, or proposals for protecting and empowering students of color can contact rebecca_howard@jones.senate.gov by February 15, 2019.

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  1. Jah and Jahnes love.

    So happy and thankful for that these Senators have initiated this. I have a lot of debt which I plan to repay when I am gainfully employed. I believe that discriminatory practices in hiring are a greatly to blame for graduates of colour’s inability to pair down their debt. Blessed love.

  2. Thank the four senators for this valuable commentary. I hope they will continue to lead policies and changes that reduce the financial burdens for students that now exist. Innovative programs that reduce student debt and debt forgiveness for work related payback should be implemented. Also, state and federal programs that support diversity in the national workforce should contribute to efforts that reduce student debt through loans and work/study opportunities. JCS

  3. The good news is that the Senators have asked.

    The bad news is that it is four Democratic Party Senators, which means that the chance of any bill’s being heard, let alone passed, before 2021 is diminishingly small. I will celebrate that at least they are paying attention and hope for the future.

  4. I got married when I was 17 years old. Had my first child when I was 18. Had to leave public school because I impregnated my wife. The same principal that put me out of high school came to my parents house that same day and told them he was not going to have a honors student working in a factory so he took me to Greensboro, NC and got me enrolled in the high school division of Emmanuel Luther Junior College. Upon graduation, the same principal took me to Charlotte, NC, and got me enrolled in JCSU on a work aide. My family took care of my family and helped with tuition. I use to dye my cloths in a trash can so it would look like I had different outfits.

    Upon graduation I moved from NC to DC looking for career opportunities. I had bills to pay and no credit rating. I stayed with an aunt and uncle until I could save money for an apartment and cheap furniture. DC was expensive, but the value of work was instilled in me, and I worked hard to get my head above water. I worked nights for the FBI and my wife worked days. In order to pay our bills and pay down my school loan, I took on the job of resident manager/janitor of the apartment building I live in. This afforded me rent free apartment and other pay. I was not to proud to shovel coal into a furnace, put out the trash, clean hallways, and cut grass. I was able to pay off my debts, buy our first car, and eventually move into a beautiful garden apartment complex. Even started a career in pharmaceutical sales which paid better than most jobs.

    So many people within my community saw something in me and they supported me in so many ways. How could I let them down? How could I renege on a promise to pay back a loan that helped provide me with the financial security I have today? I could I hurt others in need by becoming that stat that is now destroying something so needed, yet abused? How could I look my parents in the face, who sacrificed so much, not just me, but my sister who was in college at the same time, and say you pay it off?

    If people borrow money and fully understand the penalties then they should put on their big boys pants and suffer the consequences of their actions. By doing this folks are saying education is secondary when it comes to budgeting. If you really want a degree, then learn to budget your money and live within your means. A degree can open doors, but you have to be willing to sacrifice to get it. Decide what time you are willing to invest to get that degree. What kind of pay back do your expect vs your investment. Once I get that degree, how much will you be able to put toward that debt you agreed upon?

    I am a child of segregation and I will never forget the sacrifices my ancestors made so I might enjoy the luxury of finishing grade school, high school, and college. These were things that most of them could only dream of. I bet if they had the student loans that are available today, the payback percent would be close to 0.

    Personally, I am embarrassed when I read about black folks not paying off a debt they asked for, maybe even begged for. If this student loan program was for white’s only, we would be marching in the streets, and writing letters to Sen, Harris complaining.

    I know several people who have dogged paying back their student loans. Guess what, they all have good paying jobs and living high on the hog. They talk about it as if someone owed them because of slavery. Sad and misinformed!

    Maybe enforcing some type community service for those who aren’t paying on their loans. You could assign a dollar value for each hour they work. I like this idea!

  5. Free college tuition.
    Guaranteed student support services (mental health, general health, tutoring, mentoring) during college.
    Loan forgiveness programs. Work in a public school: loan forgiveness. Volunteer in the church and/or communitty: loan forgiveness. Care-giving for family member: loan forgiveness.
    Employer incentives to hire African-American graduates and to create meaningful internships for African-American students.
    Zero percent loans to African-American students.

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