Four ways to make college financial aid more fair

Four ways to make college financial aid more fair

The Great Recession ended 10 years ago this summer, but a decade of economic recovery has failed to lift the prospects for millions of college students staring down more than $1.5 trillion in education debt.

Student loans have surged more than 150 percent in the past 11 years, according to a Bloomberg Global Data analysis. And research shows that students of color have higher debt burdens than other groups of students — meaning they must start their lives in more debt, with less familial wealth and more familial responsibilities, and reap fewer rewards from their educational pursuits.

Recently, Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada asked Lumina for advice on how to address disparities in borrower outcomes for students of color and make higher education equitable for all.

We submitted a letter in response with suggestions based upon research with our partners on how best to support student borrowers of color. To address racial disparities in borrower outcomes, we offer the following principles:

  1. Improve accessibility to disaggregated, publicly available borrower data.
  2. Maintain and strengthen student protections throughout the borrower cycle.
  3. Make borrower policy equitable and transparent from the outset and with clear default prevention measures.
  4. Improve access to need-based aid.

Failing to acknowledge this disparity in wealth and assets hurts students of color and their families. Race matters in this context, and ignoring it will not improve critical outcomes such as reducing default rates or paying down debt, encouraging re-enrollment of students of color who have stopped out, or increasing completion. The research shows that race-conscious financial aid policies and policy proposals needed.

Racial disparities in student debt loads and repayment demand our attention and an urgent search for solutions. The data clearly shows that Black students have disproportionately large debt burdens and default rates, even among those who complete their degrees.

Latino students, on the other hand, have somewhat smaller debt burdens but an outsized number of students who leave their programs with debt but no degree. And Native American and certain populations of Asian students make up too small a group in national data to reveal clear trends, meaning that a closer look at the state and local level is sorely needed.

Other research we have sponsored shows that the nation needs to grow the proportion of people with post-high school degrees and high-quality certificates to 60 percent within the next few years, in order to fill millions of jobs requiring a skilled, educated workforce. We’re now at only 48 percent.

We can’t reach that goal without raising the attainment level of every group in society, especially people of color. And we can’t fulfill the promise of America, where everybody gets an equal chance, without making special efforts to help these students reach their potential.

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