Black college grads face greater student loan burden than whites

The more than $1.1 trillion in outstanding student debt is not distributed evenly among the country’s college graduates.

In a poll done earlier this year, Gallup and Purdue University found that 78 percent of black college graduates took out loans to pay for their education, compared to 61 percent of white and 63 percent of all grads.

While 35 percent of all college grads and 34 percent of white grads borrowed at least $25,000 in student loans, 50 percent of black grads had borrowed as much.

The financial payoff of getting a college degree has only grown during the last 30 years, as wages for those with associate’s degrees and high school diplomas has stalled or dropped. And the time it takes to recoup the cost of tuition and the earnings a student loses while they’re in school is near all-time lows, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

What the Gallup-Purdue poll shows is that those average calculations that mask the financial rewards of college education may not be equally accessible to all grads.

A recent report estimated every $250 paid toward student loans each month reduces a household’s home buying budget by $44,000. That lost buying power could cost the housing market $83 billion this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. If black college grads have heavier debt loads on average, their home buying power is taking a disproportionate hit.

Census data already shows the net worth of black and Hispanic families dramatically lags that of white and Asian families and that the gap is growing. Unequal debt burdens could mean a college degree won’t necessarily close that gap for any given family.

A look at the Survey of Consumer Finances by the Pew Research Center found college grads who did not have student debts had accumulated about seven times the wealth of their indebted peers.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.