Response to United States Senators Doug Jones, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Catherine Cortez Masto’s Student Borrowers of Color Solicitation Letter

The racial patterns in college completion and educational attainment rates, debt burden, and loan repayment and default rates identified in the Senators’ letter are symptoms of a centuries-old problem that includes and encompasses but also goes far beyond higher education. The root of the problem is our country’s historic and pervasive institutionalized racism. Centuries of intentional and unintentional actions, policies, practices, customs, and patterns are manifested in the extreme racial disparities in wealth, educational attainment, health, and other critical indicators (including those identified in the Senators’ letter). A critical factor underlying the statistics highlighted in the Senators’ letter is our stratified higher education system. For example, while access generally has increased, students of color are increasingly segregated into open-access institutions. This is exacerbated by the fact that even within our public sector, resources are inequitably distributed, with public research institutions receiving more per student in state appropriations than other public four-year schools and public two-year colleges. These differences in resources matter for student outcomes, including completions. Further, students of color are overrepresented and far more likely than their white-majority counterparts to enroll in for-profit institutions, where their likelihood of success is diminished, and debt loads are greater.