According to a new report from the American Institutes for Research, black and Hispanic STEM PhD students are more likely to accrue larger amounts of debt during grad school than their non-underrepresented minority (URM) peers (read: white, Asian, & biracial). The Chronicle of Higher Education article is a little clunky in trying to summarize a report that compares debt incurred by graduate students in STEM programs versus those in social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) programs. I suggest reading the actual report itself.
The report also found that these disparities existed regardless of the source of funding (institutional vs external) or the time it took students to complete their PhD studies.
Other factors that may be worth exploring include the distance that students travel to attend graduate school, spending patterns during graduate school, the family commitments of PhD students during graduate school (e.g., marital status and number of dependents), and salary expectations after leaving graduate school. If graduate students’ spending patterns during graduate school are related to the expected financial pay-off of their PhDs, then differences in graduate student debt may be related to differences in students’ inflated estimates of their future salaries.
I'd add socioeconomic and debt status upon entering grad school to that list. Identifying which factors contribute to debt could help us better position students to shoulder less of it.
As graduate programs make more of an effort to recruit underrep'ed minorities, however, I wonder whether these disparities will become greater or smaller...