Borrowing Inequality: Race, Class and Student Loans
reviewed by Noel S. Anderson - 2004
Title: Borrowing Inequality: Race, Class and Student Loans
Author(s): Derek V. Price
Publisher: ABLEX Publishing Company, Westport, CT
ISBN: 1588262162, Pages: 161, Year: 2004
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The alarming rise in tuition at public and private colleges and universities around the country coupled with the precipitous decline in federal student aid is pushing higher education out of the reach of many students in the
As this new research on the “graduation gap” emerges, the federal Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), which was developed to provide aid to students regardless of their ability to pay, is up for reauthorization this fall. Vigorous debate rages in Congress over provisions such as whether students who attend cheaper colleges should continue receiving the maximum in Pell grants. Presently Pell grants cover only 40% of public college tuition, down from 80% since 1980. Another heated issue is whether the federal government should expand programs providing loans directly to students rather than through commercial banks. Conservatives in both the House and the Senate argue for continued subsidies to commercial lenders and the elimination of loan consolidation at fixed interest rates, a decision that will adversely affect students from middle and upper-income families who select this option most often. Centrist policy makers, on the other hand, argue for strengthening HEA and returning support to middle class families. Undoubtedly reauthorizing HEA will serve as a litmus test of the financial commitment of Congress to expanding higher educational opportunities for all students. But, fundamentally, at the core of the debates over rising college costs and financial aid is a prevailing and crucial question: what is truly the purpose and role of higher education in the
Derek Price in Borrowing Inequality: Race, Class and Student Loans adds a needed and informed voice to the discourse on the purpose and role of higher education. Price argues that the federal government has moved away from the promise of HEA and the larger pursuit of educational equity. He states, emphatically, that the over-reliance on student loans to finance higher education is undermining equal opportunities. Price weaves a well-researched argument that the rising costs of higher education at the state level have gone hand-in-hand with a decrease in federal aid. “The two-decade trend in rising college prices as well as the increased reliance on student loans to finance higher education has altered the balance between the social and individual purposes of higher education,” (p. 7) he states. To Price, higher education fosters an instrumental self-interest by facilitating individual mobility and a communicative social interest by contributing to the common good. Yet, he argues, the financial burden levied on low-income families, and disproportionately on families of color, by federal and state governments “contributes to the reproduction of social inequality” (p. 28).
Price’s strongest use of data illustrates the barriers to graduate and career options for low-income and poor students of color who attend less-expensive colleges and are saddled with loan debt upon leaving college. Given that students of color and students from low-income and poor families tend to enter professional fields geared toward public service in greater numbers than other groups, Price maintains that the loan debt burden not only dissuades students of color from entering public service careers, but it also hinders their ability to pursue higher degrees. This unnecessary dilemma, as Price sees it, hinders students’ ability to expand their skills and their competitiveness in the job market, and it undermines the role and purpose of higher education for the public good.
Price relies heavily on longitudinal data from the
Price’s analysis of social reproduction could have been developed further, however. There has been a large public policy shift in thinking about entitlements for poor and low-income families. These entitlements were created as part of HEA under the Great Society initiatives of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. However, since the Nixon administration there has been an overall move in
The reforms to federal aid policies that Price proposes are feasible and merit serious consideration. Some steps are to classify Pell Grants as an entitlement, remodel federal guaranteed student loans with larger government subsidies, and expand loan forgiveness programs for those entering public service. Further, Price maintains that colleges and universities need to increase need-based financial aid. These are crucial actions for ensuring better access and career choices for students in need.
Borrowing Inequality is a readable, thoughtful, and well-argued text, contributing much needed analysis to the equity debate. It is a must read in policy circles, in higher education leadership courses, and for those interested in expanding opportunities for poor and working class students of color. Borrowing Inequality provides a sobering look at the current racial and economic barriers to a college degree for many students of color in the
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The Education Trust. (2004). A matter of degrees: Improving graduation rates in four-year colleges and universities. Retrieved June 1, 2004 from www.edtrust.org.