Lawmakers who have been trying to improve the bleak student debt picture for borrowers of color were urging disgraced Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos to create a task force to address racial disparities for those who owe, according to a new report.
The task force would be able to “study the challenges facing borrowers of color and to propose solutions to help them get out of debt,” 62 congressional Democrats wrote in a letter to DeVos on Monday. The Education Department could also begin collecting and reporting annual data on loan default rates, repayment rates and loan delinquency with regard to race, ethnicity and other criteria, lawmakers said, The Washington Post reported.
Under DeVos, the Education Department has revised Obama-era protections that have guarded students of color against predatory for-profit colleges. Several of these institutions have faced heavy criticism for dishonest practices to largely court and Black students who end up having to take out many loans —a process that has prompted them to drop out of school without attaining degrees and defaulting on loans. Black Democrats have spoken out against the Education Department and for-profit college abuses, including California Senator Kamala Harris and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.
The Education Department has failed to recognize the root causes of debt inequity, including the economic barriers that have historically hurt Black people. There was also a clear disparity when it came to lending money to students of color, who have found themselves stalled with hefty school debts and facing defaults. Nearly half of African-American borrowers who enrolled in college for the 2003-2004 school year defaulted on their federal loans within 12 years, a rate that was more than twice white students’ during the same time, according to Education Department data released last October.
When it comes to for-profit colleges, default rates were very high for all racial groups, the Education Department data revealed. Seventy-five percent of African-American attendees who dropped out were forced to default on their loans at for-profit schools, according to National Center For Education Statistics (NCES) data analyzed by American Progress in a report last year. Recent numbers showing how many Black students who leave these schools fall in default may be even more troubling as for-profit college enrollment more than doubled from 2004 to 2011.
African-Americans who obtained Bachelor’s degrees defaulted more than whites and Hispanics, with 114 percent of Blacks as compared to 49 and 79 percent, respectively, according to NCES.
Obama supported regulations to help students borrowers of color, including a rule for gainful employment that allowed for the withholding of federal student aid from shady vocational programs that consistently left graduates with more debt than they were able to repay. The borrower defense regulation was enacted to end federal loans obligations for students if a school used illegal or deceptive tactics to convince them to borrow money for college.
If a task force is created and more protections for students of color are enforced, then the debt picture could start to look much better.