National Hispanic Heritage Month started last week, a time to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Many celebrated, too, when President Biden selected four Latinos to serve in his cabinet—Isabel Guzman, Alejandro Majorkas, Xavier Becerra, and Miguel Cardona—the most of any president. The latter, Secretary Cardona, leads the Department of Education, which sets policy for things like federal student loans. Unfortunately, the pace of progress in Washington remains as slow as ever, and communities of color continue to be disproportionately plagued with student debt despite Latinx persons in the very highest levels of government.
Report after report has shown that majority Black- and Latinx-communities to bear the greatest burden of student debt and its effects. In 2015, the CFPB documented the effects of the Great Recession on student debt in communities of color, “with many families seeing their net worth nearly cut in half.” The report documented higher rates of borrowing among Black and Latinx students, higher rates of delinquency and default, and “economic barriers that cause them to borrow at higher rates.” Although they identified “shoddy student loan servicing practices and student loan debt relief scams” as a problem, any borrower today can tell you they still plague the system.
More recently, the Student Borrower Protection Center has found that borrowers of color are more likely to be pursued for collections than white neighbors. The report documents “the share of student loan borrowers in collections in communities of color is, on average, 7 percentage-points higher than the share of borrowers in collections in majority-white communities in the same counties.” This persists, despite the fact that borrowers of color tend to have lower balances than their white borrowers in the same county, and each group has comparable rates of student loan utilization. In the 5 years since the Great Recession—when majority Black- and Latinx-communities were shown to have been disproportionately affected and problem areas were identified—communities of color continue to be unfairly targeted by student loan organizations.
Tell Secretary Cardona that we’re ready for a change to student loan policy, we’re ready for equal protections for all borrowers. The Dept. of Education is collecting comments on borrowers’ student loan stories and the deadline to comment is this Friday, Sept. 24th. Send them to the SBPC to have your voice amplified in their work for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Tell Sec. Cardona that we’re ready to see some real change—we’ve waited long enough.