Unless there is a trust fund involved, paying for college is becoming increasingly difficult for families at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum. As college tuition costs have risen and average wages have remained stagnant, young adults and their families are forced to turn to loans to fund higher education. With aggregate student loan debt well past $1 trillion, many young adults are mortgaging their futures to pay for college now.
In a recent Sociology of Education article, Jason Houle takes a closer look at how parents’ income and education levels are linked with students’ risk for and levels of debt. He finds, perhaps unsurprisingly, that wealthier parents and college-educated parents, regardless of income level, contribute more to their children’s college education, thus buffering them from large debt burdens.
Students from middle-class backgrounds are most at risk for taking on debt to pay for college. Many of these students are prepared for and expected to attend college yet are ineligible for most of the need-based grants and scholarships, making them more likely to take on student loans. However, while “young adults from low-income backgrounds may be more debt adverse,” it is these students from the lowest income bracket that take on the highest debt burdens.
Houle also finds racial discrepancies in student loan debt, with African American young adults more likely to take on educational debt than their white counterparts. Houle speculates that “disparities in student loan debt may reproduce racial gaps in wealth among the college educated.”