The $1.7 trillion student debt crisis impacts over 44 million families nationwide, and the burden of student loans falls particularly heavily on Black students because of historical and ongoing systemic racism. While Black families themselves typically have less wealth to draw upon to pay for college due to the racial wealth gap, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have also been underfunded throughout their histories, compounding the challenges for HBCU students who face financial challenges at both the familial and institutional levels. These challenges often result in higher student debt burdens for students who attend HBCUs and relative difficulty in repayment for graduates.

This memo presents five key takeaways and illustrative borrower quotations from a series of focus groups that was conducted online by Hart Research on behalf of the United Negro College Fund, the Center for Responsible Lending, and the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in December 2020.

Takeaways Include:

  1. Borrowers are aware of the potential negative impacts of student loan debt and are worried about their future ability to repay, but need to take on debt in order to attend college.
  2. Many student loan borrowers receive financial assistance from their families, and many also provide financial and other types of support to their families during college.
  3. Student loan borrowers, especially current students, explained that they faced serious financial insecurity during college. Some reflected on the emergency financial support that their HBCUs provided to them.
  4. Most respondents affiliated with HBCUs felt a profound sense of belonging at their schools, and many reflected upon mentors who cared about them and extracurriculars that helped them get connected on campus.
  5. Student loan borrowers clearly expressed the negative impact that their student loans have on their lives, from mental health impacts to delays associated with savings, homeownership, and graduate school.

About This Project

This memo is part of a mixed-methods project that compares the financial experiences of Black student loan borrowers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with their Black peers at predominately white institutions (PWIs) as well as with their white peers. The project includes several memos including survey toplines, policy recommendations, focus group takeaways, and a memo on the HBCU student experience. This project was a collaboration between the Center for Responsible Lending, and the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the United Negro College Fund with support from the African American Research Collaborative and Hart Research. Generous funding from the Lumina Foundation made this research possible, and you can learn more at MyYardMyDebt.Org.

Learn more about the 2021 national survey that shows strong support for student loan cancellation among black students.