Studies have shown that even small debts can increase a student’s chances of dropping out, particularly for minorities and low-income students. Also, federal loans, which are typically capped at $27,000 over four years, often don’t cover the full expense of college. Many students also take on private bank loans or work jobs outside school.
“Student debt is not the same to every borrower,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior analyst at Demos, a public policy nonprofit. “It can look a lot different to a first generation student from a very modest economic background than to someone going to graduate school getting a law degree.”
Indeed, undergraduates take a fraction of the loans of graduate students but default at much higher rates. Debt can put low-income young adults at a disadvantage for years to come, limiting a graduate’s ability to save, get a mortgage, or get the job they aspire to.
“At the end of the day, you’re talking about households that don’t have nearly as much wealth to fall back on,” said Huelsman.