Anchored in Debt: Examining the Implications of Student Loan Indebtedness for Black Borrowers



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Background: The current student loan debt level has reached an all-time high at 1.7 trillion, with 54% of college students taking on some form of debt to cover their college expenses (Hanson, 2021). Not only has the student loan program left many students in debt, but it has also contributed to a widening racial wealth gap in this country (Sullivan et al., 2019). Attaining a higher education credential has the strong possibility of creating economic security and guaranteed entry into the middle class for many Americans. However, with rising cost, reaching degree completion has caused generations of Black borrowers to be burdened with millions in student loan debt. The federal student loan program in the U.S. has created access and fulfilled the promise to offer greater financial freedom, but not for all students. Are Black borrowers paying the price, literally, for a system that is not truly equitable? Purpose: The purpose of this narrative study was to explore how Black borrowers narrate their experience of accumulating student loans and navigating debt post college. This study explored the following research questions: (1) How do Black borrowers narrate their experience with accumulating student loan debt? (2) How do Black borrowers narrate their experience with navigating the student loan repayment process? (3) How does student loan indebtedness influence Black borrowers? (4) What are the systemic issues Black borrowers encounter when navigating the federal student loan system? Methods: This narrative study sought to understand, through storytelling, the experiences and factors Black student loan borrowers viewed as influencing their decision to accumulate student loans, their journey through the repayment process and the influence of debt on their day-to-day lives. For this study, data was collected through interviews and reflective journals with twelve participants. I implemented a narrative analysis which allowed me as the researcher to examine the data as a coherent whole. I produced a written analysis that effectively corresponded to the stories told and aligned with the objectives of this narrative study. Results: The findings suggest, Black borrowers interpret and navigate their debt uniquely. There is no one size fits all approach to being indebted. Most participants within the study described feeling anchored to their student loans and being hindered by their debt. To achieve their academic goals, participants described the process of taking out student loans as an inevitable decision throughout their post-secondary journey. Access (or lack thereof) to information had a significant influence on the ways in which participants perceived the student loan process, their borrowing behavior, and repayment patterns. Finally, the results highlight the ways in which participants navigate and make decisions while in repayment. Conclusion: Participants described a strong desire to be the last generation of Black borrowers who will have to experience this level of indebtedness. Participants acknowledge they are a product of a broken system not built for their success. Through their professional work, conversations with younger siblings and family members, participants are planting seeds of knowledge to best support future Black borrowers to navigate higher education with the least amount of debt.



student loan debt, black borrowers, narrative research, black students, financial aid, student loans