Racial disparities in accruing debt during graduate school

May 09 2013 Published by under Issues in Science

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.

Figure 5. Graduate Student Debt for STEM Phd Recipients by Race-Ethnicity and Gender- 2010

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...

6 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Yeah, I do wonder if debt from undergrad plays a role "well I'm already 100k in, what's another 50k?" (I'm pretty sure this was Carebear's actual thought process *sigh*)

    • AmasianV says:

      Oh yeah, that's another way to look at it. I thought of debt in a prohibitive sense and not in the "fug it" sense.

      I do wish they had broken down Figure 1. Undergraduate Student Debt for STEM and SBE PhD Recipients: 2010 into race/ethnicity/gender though.

  • pentahedron says:

    FWIW the number of URM STEM PhD respondents is very small according to the data used to create this report (available at https://ncses.norc.org/NSFTabEngine/#TABULATION), which is probably why they chose to represent all the data as percents. For example: 402 African American males in STEM completed the survey in 2010, in comparison to 8,020 White non-Hispanic males. I think this means that discussion of the 'extreme debt' of 25% of African American male PhD recipients is based on data from only 100 people...?

    • AmasianV says:

      Right, right, the perils of expressing data in percentages. Thanks for sussing out this info. I was concerned about any (under)sampling being a reflection of blacks and Hispanics being underrep'ed, which is why I wondered if the disparities would grow or shrink as more blacks and Hispanics entered PhD programs. I think this is related to my question as to whether the disparities would grow or shrink as the n for blacks and Hispanics in STEM PhD programs increases.

      I'm curious if the questionnaire response rates differed by race or gender--the overview (https://ncses.norc.org/NSFTabEngine/#SED_OVERVIEW) lists the overall response rate at ~93% for 2010. Not sure if it's broken down by race or gender anywhere... Struck that since it doesn't make much sense. Presumably the questionnaire would need to be filled out to get any gender or race information.

  • Bashir says:

    One thing that comes to mind is recent news on the ever present wealth gap. While mean black income has gotten close wealth continues to be orders of magnitude lower. Think about how many grad students in your program had help from family. I know I did, and plenty of others got help with housing, getting a car or expensive travel.

    • AmasianV says:

      Most definitely. My brother helped me out with my car and I know of at least one student who received a regular allowance from hir mom.

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