The Racial Gap in Student Debt for Graduates of State Universities in Texas

According to a new study by Dominique J. Baker, an assistant professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, students at public universities in Texas are taking on too much debt, with Black students facing the biggest financial challenges. On average, White students who graduated from Texas state universities have a debt-to-income ratio of 68 percent, compared to 117 percent for Black students who graduated from state universities in Texas.

For the study, the research team tracked students who started college between 2004 and 2008 and earned a bachelor’s degree from a public Texas university within six years. The results found that, on average,  Black students borrowed $35,598, while White students borrowed $25,286. The gap was apparent even when comparing students whose parents had similar levels of education and income. Additionally, the researchers found that the public institutions that had the highest averages for debt burdens were those that had significantly higher rates of Black student enrollment.

To combat this high level of student-debt among Texas students, Dr. Baker notes the possibility of penalizing the public institutions themselves when their students take on too much debt. However, the author stresses that the racial demographics of each school’s student body should be heavily considered as well when discussing policy changes.

“If the state is interested in trying to incorporate something like debt burden into accountability for institutions, then a big caution is that the state may need to take into consideration the enrollment makeup of the institutions,” said Dr. Baker.

Before joining the faculty at Southern Methodist University, Dr. Baker was assistant dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. Dr. Baker earned her Ph.D. in higher education leadership and policy studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The study, “When Average Is Not Enough: A Case Study Examining the Variation in the Influences on Undergraduate Debt Burden,” was published in the journal AERA Open from the American Educational Research Association. It may be accessed here.

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