Black students rely more on student loans to pay for college than other racial groups in the U.S. and they’re less likely to pay off the debt, according to a study.
“Student debt today has a color,” Sara Goldrick-Rab, the study’s lead author, said today in presenting the research at a conference on higher education and minorities in Washington. “The majority of African-American students in this country in college would not be there without access to student loans.”
More than 52 percent of black students had student loans in 2012, compared with about 42 percent of whites, and about a third of Hispanics and Asians, according to the study, which analyzed data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. The share of black students with such loans has grown faster in the past two decades than any group other than Native Americans, the data showed.
Black and white students borrow about the same amount, yet the debt weighs more heavily on black families, according to the study. Researchers said that’s because the student loan tab “represents a much larger fraction of black students’ current family income and their future earnings.”
The average student-loan bill for both groups is about $8,000. That’s half the $16,000 average wealth of black families, while only about 7 percent of the $124,000 average wealth of white families, according to figures cited in the study.
“Black students face a catch-22,” researchers said. Because they tend to have lower wealth and income than whites, they need aid to afford college, yet face larger hurdles to pay it off.
Studies have shown that black borrowers are more likely to be in more debt for longer than other groups. An analysis this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black students owe 22 percent more in loans, and are less likely to be repaying that debt 10 years out of college.
Part of the problem is that black families have less of a financial cushion than whites, said Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
“The family recourses to prevent a child or young adult from defaulting are simply not present, even among middle-class black families” Goldrick-Rab said.
Another pressing issue is that after they leave college, blacks fare worse in the labor market, she said. Black men and women are paid less than whites at every level of education, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s much harder for African-Americans to get a good return on their degrees,” Goldrick-Rab said.
The conference was hosted by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles.