Black and Latino students may struggle with ‘unsustainable’ student debt, report says

Christopher Newport University in Newport News has the highest average debt per graduate in Virginia, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. (By Cnucaptain - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

A new report from the Center for Responsible Lending and the NAACP said black and Latino college graduates may struggle with higher and more difficult-to-manage student loan debt than their white counterparts.

“Historically, access to higher education has been dramatically unequal,” the report stated. “This pattern persists today as African-American and Latino students struggle to fund their college experiences due to broad societal discrimination …  As a result, students of color accumulate high levels of unsustainable debt.”

Fifty-six percent of college graduates in Virginia have student loan debt when they graduate, the Institute for College Access and Success estimates. The average graduate in the state has $29,887 in loans, close to the national average of $29,669. 

Christopher Newport University has the highest average debt per graduate, according to the institute’s data, at $32,994. Old Dominion University is close behind, with an average $32,092 debt among graduates.

But Virginia State University, a historically black college, has the highest proportion of students graduating with debt. According to the institute, 92 percent of VSU’s graduates leave with some sort of student loan debt.

The institute doesn’t have information on how that average might be different among races, but the Center for Responsible Lending estimated the the average white college student in the United States graduates with $30,093 in debt; black graduates with $33,993 and Latino graduates have $25,452 in debt at the end of an undergraduate career.

Almost half of black borrowers owe more on a degree four years after getting it compared to 17 percent of white graduates, the Center for Responsible Lending’s report found. That happens in part because minorities “are too often preyed upon by poor quality for-profit institutions,” the report claims.

Latino students, who typically borrow the least amount of money, are more likely to drop out of college which can lead to issues in repayment, the report stated.

“Student debt is a significant drag on the economy as it depresses the purchasing power of millions, preventing people from starting families, investing in their own businesses, going back to school and buying homes,” the report states. “And because students of color carry larger debt burdens, these consequences also exacerbate the racial wealth divide by impacting families of color the most acutely.”

The center, which has been a proponent of debt-cancellation policies that some Democratic presidential candidates have presented, suggested implementing such a policy in its report.

“Without action, this problem will only worsen,” it states.

In Virginia, the cost of college was the impetus for a tuition freeze at public schools. But legislation to tackle student loan debt has been slower to make its way into law.

Student loan debt and college costs have already created another problem for the state: It’s one of the reasons officials think people aren’t entering the teaching profession. That’s lead to a statewide teacher shortage (there were 900 unfilled teaching positions at the beginning of the last school year) and a specifically low number of non-white teachers entering the profession.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently approved several teacher education programs at colleges that will cut down the amount of time, and money, it takes to become a teacher.