A recently released report from the Center For American Progress shows that Black students are suffering more than almost any other demographic in the United States when it comes to student loans, particularly those who have taken out loans for graduate school.

Students of all races across the United States have racked up more than $1 trillion in student loans, and the number continues to rise.

But the crisis is affecting Black people in dangerous ways, saddling a generation of students with loans they may never be able to pay back.

Ben Miller, vice president for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress, wrote a lengthy study of the current student loan problem, highlighting the difficult position many Black teenagers and young adults are facing. 

Miller's report said the country's student loan crisis is having a particularly dangerous effect on Black communities looking to higher education as a way out of entrenched poverty.

"The sustained rise in graduate debt also has substantial equity implications, particularly for Black students. Black students are more likely to borrow in graduate school and have more undergraduate debt than their white peers. As a result, the median debt for a Black student borrower finishing graduate school is 50% higher than that of a white borrower. Societal pay disparities also mean that women with graduate degrees receive salaries comparable to their less-educated male peers," Miller noted.

"The result is that individuals seeking graduate education to address pervasive societal pay gaps will end up paying more for those credentials over the long run," he added. 

One of the most eye-opening aspects of the report hinges on the fact that many Black students feel they have no choice but to saddle themselves with onerous loans just to be viewed as equals to their less-educated white male peers.

Miller said there are now fears that graduate school loans could retrench economic mobility at a time when women and Black students often feel like they have to get credentials beyond a bachelor’s degree in order to get the kind of salaries that less-educated white men receive.

"On average, women need to earn a master’s degree to exceed the lifetime earnings of men with an associate degree. The results are similar when comparing students who are Black or Latinx with white individuals," he added.

"Black and Latinx graduate students are more likely to go into debt than their white peers, and those who finish end up with much more total debt. Almost 90 percent of Black or African American students who took on federal loans for graduate school and finished in the 2015-16 academic year had debt from undergraduate studies. Black students’ median federal debt for graduate school was about 25 percent higher than that of their white peers, and their total federal debt was $25,000 higher," Miller wrote.


Near the end of the report, Miller goes through a number of solutions to the current debt problem but notes that many are fraught with concerns about how they would be enacted in the real world. Any attempts to create dollar-based caps on student loans would adversely affect Black communities who cannot afford to attend top institutions without loans.

Loan caps also will not address the underlying issue: Black people, and particularly Black women, are underpaid throughout the country, making it more difficult for them to pay back any student loans throughout their lives. 

In spite of the statistics, white students are still twice as likely to receive highly coveted fellowships or assistantships in high-wage professions like medicine, law, dentistry and podiatry.

This discrepancy in fellowships has a knock-on effect of forcing Black people to take out more loans for the same spots on average. According to the report, "about 60% of students in research-based doctoral degrees borrow, [and] 80% of Black students in these programs take on loans."

The report highlights that something must change in order for the situation to be remedied. To allow Black students to continue taking out high-interest loans just to keep up with their white peers will only make the situation worse.

"The laissez-faire federal approach to graduate student debt must change. The unchecked accumulation of federal debt can lead too many students into loans they will struggle to repay, while extended repayment time frames can make it harder to build wealth and leave an entire generation behind," Miller said.

"The current system has had particularly pernicious effects on Black and Latinx students, as well as women, who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. It is time for the federal government to make sure that the tens of billions of dollars in graduate student loans it provides each year really are making lives better."