For Black Americans, college degrees aren’t about catching up — they’re a matter of survival

Business Insider

By Nneka D. Dennie

September 17, 2020

The myth of higher education as a ‘great equalizer’

As stated in the eye-opening report “What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap,” published by the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, higher education is not the “great equalizer.”

The authors explain, “On average, a Black household with a college-educated head has less wealth than a white family whose head did not even obtain a high school diploma.” You read that correctly: The median net worth for Black families with a college degree is $70,219, while it is $12,000 higher, at $82,968, for white households with less than a high school education.

Black people’s low wealth levels have two significant implications for higher education: Black students tend to take on more student loan debt than their white counterparts, and Black graduates are more likely to default on their student loan payments. Not only are Black students more likely to finance their education with student loans, but they also have more student loan debt than their white peers.

This problem cannot simply be solved by Black people pursuing jobs with higher salaries. Even when African Americans pursue careers that might offer occupational prestige or higher incomes, such as becoming a doctor or a lawyer, the astronomically high price tags that are attached to medical and law school, coupled with existing undergraduate student loans, can catapult these aspiring professionals further into debt.