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Black Students More Likely to Graduate With Student Loan Debt

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Black college graduates are not only more likely to have student loan debt than their white classmates but also significantly less likely to be financially thriving in their postgraduate years, shows an analysis of the Gallup-Purdue Index.

For decades, black students have more frequently borrowed than white students to finance a higher education, historical data show, and the gap has remained consistent: From 1970 to 1979, 48% of black students graduated with some student loan debt, compared to 28% of whites, and from 2000 to 2014, those percentages were 78% and 61%, respectively. The difference shrunk slightly from 20 to 17 percentage points, but it’s still significant. Even with the passing of 40 years and an across-the-board spike in tuition costs, there has been little change in a black student’s likelihood of graduating debt-free, in relation to his or her white classmates.

This assessment is based on a nationally representative study of U.S. college graduates who have Internet access (that’s about 90% of college graduates, according to the Census Bureau). The Gallup-Purdue Index was conducted Feb. 4 to March 7 and analyzes the “relationship between the college experience and college graduates’ lives,” the Gallup website says. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point.

How Debt May Be Stifling Black College Grads

The more student debt consumers have, the more their well-being suffers, according to Gallup-Purdue research. Black college graduates are generally less likely to be thriving in any of the five areas of well-being in the Gallup-Purdue Index, but they significantly lag behind white graduates when it comes to financial well-being.

Among Americans who graduated between 2000 and 2014, 29% say they are thriving financially — that breaks down to 31% of whites and 17% of blacks who say they’re thriving financially. That’s one of the largest well-being discrepancies between the groups (black graduates lagged 11 and 12 percentage points in their sense of purpose and satisfaction with their communities, while social and physical well-being were on par with white graduates).

Researchers believe this stark difference in financial well-being stems from black graduates’ likelihood of carrying more than $25,000 of student debt upon completing their degrees. Only 22% of black students graduate debt-free (compared to 37% of white students), and 50% have more than $25,000 in debt, while that share is 35% among white students.

That discrepancy may perpetuate itself, the researchers wrote, because if a college graduate is grappling with his or her own sizable education debt, it will be difficult to save sufficiently for his or her child’s education, making it more likely the child will have to borrow a significant amount for education, as well.

For borrowers whose student loan payments make it difficult to set aside money for future goals, you may want to explore options for reducing your monthly payments. If you have federal loans, you might qualify for income-based repayment, and depending on your career path, you could enroll in student loan forgiveness programs.

No matter how you strategize student loan repayment, make sure you’re keeping an eye on your credit standing along the way: Those payments can help you build a solid credit history, and you’ll want to make sure your loan servicer correctly reports your payments to the credit bureaus. To stay on top of your credit, you can get two of your credit scores for free every 30 days on Credit.com.

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