MADISON (WKOW)-- Minority students are disproportionately burdened by student loans compared to white students, according to a new study co-authored by UW-Madison professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, who is also the director of The Wisconsin Hope Lab.
Miles Brown, an African American who is now a senior at UW-Madison says he grew up in poverty, in a family where no one had a 4-year-degree.
“I didn't know that college was an option for me,” he said.
After his freshman year of high school, Brown says he set his mind on attending a university, but funding his education was daunting.
“I ended up taking out loans and it was definitely was very confusing because I didn't have help from my parents filling those out,” Brown said.
Goldrick-Rab's study found minorities are more likely to take on debt. In 2011 52 percent of black students took out a loan compared to 42 percent of white students.
“Black students are borrowing more often because their families simply don't have the wealth of white students,” Goldrick-Rab said. “And what that also means is unfortunately is that when they do borrow, they are going to have a harder time paying it off.”
The average loan for white and black students is the same, roughly $8,000. But Goldrick-Rab says that number is very different proportion of income minority families. In her study, she sites the median income for white families is about $124,000, while it's just 16,000 for black families.
“There's myths out there that people who take out these loans don't know how to manage money but in actuality it's that they don't have the support system that others have,” Brown said. “And you're pretty much coming in with nothing except for these loans.”
Brown says he worries about his post-graduation debt, but adds his degree is priceless.
“It was definitely worth it,” he said.
Goldrick-Rab says some ways to ease the disparity is to provide more access to grants and reducing the risk of borrowing, by discharging loans in the event of bankruptcy. She also suggests allowing parent loans to be paid off on an income-based repayment plan. She says any talk of limiting access to loans so people don't borrow too much could hurt minority students' chances of attending college.
To read the full study click here.