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Survey: African Americans Urgently Want Relief from Rising Student Debt


African Americans view a college education as more important then ever, but also worry that it is becoming less and less affordable while they see students graduating with more debt, says a new survey.

The findings, released Wednesday by the Project on Student Debt, also says Blacks believe government should be doing more to help, and support reforms to make loan payments more manageable.

“Students and parents understand that loans help open the door to college,” said Robert Shireman, director of the Project on Student Debt. “But they also know that student debt can be an enormous burden, particularly for a recent graduate. Our goal is to promote practical, cost-effective policy changes that will make student loans more affordable for America’s families.”

The national survey also found:

  • Ninety-one percent of African Americans (and 80 percent of all adults surveyed) say that a college education is more important today than it was 10 years ago. But 62 percent of African Americans (and 66 percent of adults) say that affording college is more difficult now.
  • Seventy-seven percent of African Americans (and 59 percent of adults) say that students today have too much student loan debt. Eighty-four percent of African Americans (and 66 percent of adults) say it is hard to repay student loans. 
  • More than half of African Americans (56 percent) worry somewhat or very often about not being able to afford education costs for their children.
  • Eighty-seven percent of African Americans (and 64 percent of all adults) say the federal government is doing too little to make higher education more available and affordable.

The Project on Student Debt also conducted a preliminary analysis of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form by asking students who filled it out if they were interested in loans. These students were about to enroll in two-year or four-year colleges. Only 15 percent of White applicants who went on to enroll said no; 28 percent of African Americans said no; and 27 percent of Latinos said no.

“It was an upfront question and the answer was ‘No, thank you,’” says Lauren Asher, associate director of the Project. “So there is a wide gap between Latinos, African Americans and Whites.”

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute recently conducted a survey of California Latino youth perceptions of college financial aid which revealed among others, that 98 percent of respondents felt it was important to have a college education; over half of all respondents erroneously thought students have to be U.S. citizens to apply for college financial aid; and there is a lack of familiarity with government grants for education.

Although it was not a nationwide survey, Asher says California is a pretty good sample of what may be representative of the overall Latino population.

“Debt is fast becoming the price of a college degree,” adds Asher.

By the time students graduate, nearly two-thirds of students at four-year colleges and universities have student loan debt (66.4 percent in 2004). In 1993, less than one-half of four-year graduates had student loans. In 2004, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of graduates from public universities had student loans, according to a 2005 College Board report.

Poll results are available at


Diverse staff reports


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