Press Release/Statement | December 13, 2017

New Analysis Finds Unequal Debt Burdens Among California State University Graduates

Low-Income Students and Students of Color Most Likely to Graduate with Student Loan Debt

Oakland (CA)— Nearly eight in 10 California State University (CSU) graduates who left college with student loan debt had family incomes no greater than $54,000, finds Where Debt Comes Due at CSU: Unequal Debt Burdens among California State University Graduates, a report released today by the Cal State Student Association (CSSA) and The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).

The analysis, which looks at student costs and debt among 2015-16 bachelor’s degree graduates across the CSU’s 23 campuses, finds that students of color are also paying the price.  Three-quarters (76%) of African-American graduates left CSU with debt, compared to 47 percent of their White peers.  Overall, 52% of 2015-16 bachelor’s degree recipients from CSU had incurred student debt. 

“When students and families can’t cover college costs with their own resources or grant aid, they often borrow federal student loans,” said Maggie White, president of CSSA. “The extent to which debt burdens are concentrated among low-income CSU graduates and students of color is troubling, and speaks to an urgent need to improve financial aid programs to better support students’ total costs of attendance.”

The analysis also finds that low-income students’ college costs are higher than what students can reasonably be expected to earn from employment while enrolled. Across the 23 CSU campuses, low-income students would need to work a median of 29 hours a week to cover their net college costs (what they must pay out of pocket after grant aid). Yet research shows that students who work more than 20 hours per week are less likely to graduate than those working fewer hours.

“California needs to be increasing college completion and closing equity gaps, not compounding them with unmanageable costs and burdensome debt,” said Debbie Cochrane, vice president of TICAS. “Expecting those with the fewest resources to shoulder the burden of debt is not a path to prosperity.”

To reduce students’ need to borrow and help more students graduate, the report, which includes campus-level information on student costs, debt burdens, and graduation rates, recommends strengthening the state Cal Grant program and other need-based financial aid.