The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Faculty Grantee Reflection

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Jason Houle  

Jason Houle

Associate Professor of Sociology

Dartmouth College

Dr. Fenaba Addo

Co-Author Dr. Fenaba Addo

Associate Professor of Consumer Science

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Last year, I requested grant support from The Rockefeller Center for an ongoing project on racial disparities in student debt, with my co-author Dr. Fenaba Addo at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When we started this project, there was little research on race and student debt. A nascent literature recognizes that student debt disproportionately impacts Black youth, but we know little about the causes and consequences of this disparity, and how this disparity changes after young people leave college and enter repayment. In this project, we examine the causes and consequences of racial disparities in student debt, focusing on initial levels of debt when young people leave college and trajectories of indebtedness over time as they repay (or fail to repay) that debt.

The generous grant from the Rockefeller Center afforded us with the opportunity and the resources necessary to go into the field to collect qualitative interviews with 50 Black student borrowers. These interviews allowed us to better understand Black borrowers’ student debt narratives and gave us crucial insight into how race shapes debt accumulation and repayment that we were not able to capture with our quantitative data. Because of this grant we are now able to move forward on a book project under contract with Harvard Education Press, tentatively titled A Dream Defaulted: Race, Student Debt, and the Reproduction off Inequality in Credential Society.

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