Is College Education the Way Out of Income Inequality?

There may have been a time when that was the case, but with rising student loan debt, the connection between graduating from college and economic mobility may be more tenuous and uncertain than it was in the past.

argue against the adage that reforming higher education to provide more access to more students, including those who cannot afford to attend without loans, grants, and scholarships, will narrow the economic inequality gap between the haves and the have nots. The adage fails to accurate predict current economic reality, they contend, in their article “Getting More Poor Kids into College Won’t Fix Income Inequality,” which appeared in The Washington Post.

Jana Kasperkevic agrees. In her article, “Half of Black College Students Graduate with More than $25,000 in Student Loan Debt,” for The Guardian, Kasperkevic writes that college is not the panacea it may have once been.

Higher education has long been viewed as the way out of poverty. Unfortunately, it comes at a cost: student loan debt. For black students this cost is often greater than for their white classmates. This burden often follows them for decades after school, reinforcing income and racial inequalities that are so prominent in the US.

A Gallup poll released in September found that in the last 14 years about half of black college students graduated with student debt over $25,000 – whereas only 35% of white students did. During that same time, the number of black Americans enrolled in college had increased by 74%. In 2012, the total number of black college students was 2.96 million, up from 1.7 million in 2000. Black students make up 15% of US college students.

Often, the only way for these students to afford the college education that eludes many of their friends and classmates is by taking on loans. Four out of five black students take out loans to go to college. They are also the most likely to hold the most debt – with an average debt burden of $28,692 as compared to $24,742 for white students, according to a 2012 report by the Center for American Progress.

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