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Debt sentence: a Critical Race Theory analysis of student loan default

Robie, Alexandra Karma (2021) Debt sentence: a Critical Race Theory analysis of student loan default. Doctoral thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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Student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt type in the United States, second only to mortgage debt (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2020). With an average federal loan balance of $32,300 in FY2020, it is estimated that 42.5 million borrowers owe a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. As of March 2020, 19% of borrowers were in default, representing nearly eight million people who owe more than $170 billion to the federal government (Ma et al., 2020). While aggregate educational debt is alarming, rates of borrowing and default are higher amongst students of color and are particularly pronounced among Black borrowers (Douglas-Gabriel, 2019; Goldrick-Rab et al., 2014; Miller, 2017). The majority of research on student loan debt and default is quantitative in nature. Very little qualitative research exists about the experiences and outcomes of students in default, presenting a clear gap in the literature. This qualitative study employed a Critical Race Theory framework to understand and humanize the experiences of Black student loan borrowers who have defaulted on a federal student loan. Data was collected through semi-structured in-depth interviews and artifact elicitation with 11 participants. A composite majoritarian story of default was crafted based on multiple sources of data in order to portray current public perceptions and assumptions about student loan borrowers and defaulters. The composite majoritarian story is juxtaposed to five counterstories created based on the lived experiences of study participants. While the majoritarian narrative attributes student loan default to laziness, irresponsibility, and entitlement, stereotypes rooted in anti-Black racism, the counterstories provide an intimate and in depth look into the lives of borrowers who embodied hard work, responsibility, and adversity as they navigated interlocking systems of oppression including racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and homophobia. The counterstories invite the reader to reexamine the racist assumptions embedded in the majoritarian narrative of default. Additionally, findings include five themes that emerged from the data which highlight a strong college-going culture amongst participants, the impossible “choices” borrowers are routinely faced with making, the pervasiveness of doublespeak in the student loan discourse, the lifelong financial, emotional, physical, and intergenerational impacts of student loan debt, and the salience of participants’ multiple marginalized identities. The results of this study shed light on the systemic racism entrenched in the financial aid system and call for its liberatory transformation. Indeed, the student debt crisis is an economic and racial justice issue that requires our urgent attention.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: Black Student Loan Borrowing; Black Student Loan Debt; Financial Aid; Student Loan Default
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Education > Educational Leadership
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2022 22:34
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2022 22:34
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5809

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