Changing the narrative on borrowers of colorJuly 20, 2021
Educational, economic reforms needed to support borrowers of color
In 2018, Lumina Foundation convened a group of experts to address disparities in student borrowing. The working group’s collective report, Changing the Narrative on Student Borrowers of Color, which was published in February, shed light on the complexities and intricacies of financing post-high school education.
In episode 27 of the Lumina podcast “Today’s Students/Tomorrow’s Talent,” we hear from two experts on the topic: Dr. Amanda Tachine, assistant professor in educational leadership and innovation at Arizona State University, and Amanda Martinez, an education policy analyst at UnidosUS, a non-partisan voice for Latinos. Katherine Wheatle, Lumina’s strategy officer for federal policy and racial equity and one of the co-chairs of the Borrowers of Color Working Group, joined me as co-host for the show.
Wheatle explained that Lumina convened the Borrowers of Color group because “we wanted to work with researchers to talk about what we’re missing in the conversation about student loan debt.” What they found—and what we discussed on the show—is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Different students have different needs and barriers, and the cost of higher education is only one factor.
Native Americans, for example, must deal with a public that thinks—wrongly—that they are both living off the government and getting rich from casinos. They do not get to go to college for free—a fact that even some Native Americans don’t know, Tachine said. Most face “high debt, high loans and the inability to continue due to lack of funding.”
In 2009, 205,900 Native Americans were enrolled in four-year institutions—one of the highest numbers in history. In 2016, the number had dropped to 129,000. The Great Recession caused significant damage to family finances, and “many institutions weren’t giving the aid they used to,” Tachine said.
Debt and affordability are also issues for Hispanic and Latino students. But Martinez said they also deal with a reputation for being debt-averse. She said research has found that debt aversion does exist among Latinos, but the reasons are nuanced and range from lack of family support to concerns about piling up more debt.
Martinez said Hispanic and Latino students tend to do better at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, known as HSIs, which provide services geared specifically toward those students. The organization Excelencia in Education offers a Seal of Excelencia to schools that serve these students well.
Wheatle said the Borrowers of Color group made five recommendations to better serve students of color:
- Improve affordability as restorative and reparative policy.
- Invest in institutions that serve students of color.
- Address racial disparities by forgiving student debt.
- Reform repayment to better support borrowers of color.
- Ensure a racially just economic recovery.
“If we’re concerned about today’s students,” she said, “if we want to increase completion and know that affordability is a major barrier, let’s talk about and connect the dots between race, social/historical context, and policy.”