Black students in Wisconsin battle student debt | New


When Clint Myrick graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2010, he walked away with two substantial papers: a bachelor’s degree in music education – and a mind-boggling student loan bill.

The Milwaukee native was one of the first in his family to attend college, and Myrick said he walked in without knowing how to pay him.

“I was absolutely unprepared,” Myrick said. “I didn’t know how much it cost… I had to sort of figure it out for myself.”

Myrick had several jobs while in college to help pay the bills, ranging from working in a flower shop to running a cash register at the UW-Milwaukee student union. He was earning about $ 6 an hour, and student loans paid for his education.

Over a decade later, Myrick’s student loan debt has only increased, even after years of payments. Interest pushed the debt to $ 152,039, the highest on record. The husband and father of three works several jobs to pay off the debt. He spends 20 to 30 hours of overtime per week as an Uber driver outside of his full-time job for a bank and as president of the Milwaukee chapter of the black fraternity he belonged to at university, Alpha Phi Alpha.

Myrick is not alone in this struggle. In Wisconsin, about 710,000 people owe an estimated federal student loan debt of $ 24.4 billion, with a median debt of $ 17,323, according to Governor Tony Evers’ 2020 Task Force on Student Debt. Nationally, the toll of crippling student debt levels on tens of millions of Americans has prompted some calls for large-scale loan forgiveness.

This burden weighs unevenly on students. According to, Black and African American college graduates owe on average about $ 25,000 more in student loans than their white counterparts. The same report also found that four years after graduation, 48% of black students owe about 12.5% ​​more than they originally borrowed.

Such disparities are particularly marked in the Milwaukee area, according to a 2019 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In majority minority postal codes in Milwaukee, Waukesha and West Allis, 23% of the population has student loan debt, compared to 19% of majority white postal codes. The real difference comes from the proportion of these loans that are in default. In postal codes where most residents are people of color, 21% of loans are in default, compared to just 6% in predominantly white areas.

The Evers task force recommended that Wisconsin take several steps to ease the burden of student debt, including expanding financial education for K-12 students; increase financial assistance as needed; loan remission for graduates entering certain professions; state tax credits; and a student debt refinancing mechanism to reduce interest rates.

He concluded that “finding solutions to address racial and ethnic inequalities in student debt is a critical aspect of finding solutions for Wisconsin student loan borrowers.”

A variety of studies have named Milwaukee the most racially segregated metropolitan area in the country, harboring structural inequalities that make it more difficult for black residents to raise their standard of living compared to white residents.

A 2020 UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development report compared Milwaukee’s black community to that of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan cities, finding that black residents of Milwaukee ranked in the bottom three nationally in terms of income and economic mobility.

Myrick said these statistics show how racism inhibits the general well-being of black people.

“The basis is racism. Racism is the driving force behind the disparities between blacks and whites,” Myrick said. “We don’t get the same education, the same resources or the same facilities.”

During an online debate in March for Intelligence Squared US on student loan cancellation, Ashley Harrington of the Center for Responsible Lending said many black students are gravely burdened with this loan debt. The association strives to protect home ownership and family patrimony by opposing abusive financial practices.

“(Student debt) weighs disproportionately on borrowers of color, black borrowers in particular, who are more likely to borrow, borrow more, and fight for repayment,” said Harrington, federal director of advocacy. for the group. “This is the direct result of centuries of racial exclusion policies and practices that continue to this day.”

At Myrick University, UW-Milwaukee, many students are racking up crushing debts to lenders.

The 2020 edition of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) found that the percentage of UW-Milwaukee students who took out student loans in the 2018-2019 school year was 7 points percentage higher than the median of a comparison group of similar establishments. That same year, students at UW-Milwaukee also took out an average of $ 7,499 in student loans, about $ 1,000 more than the median amount.

Myrick said he understands why so many students take out loans without necessarily knowing how to repay them.

“They’re selling you on the dream. ‘Just take out the loans, and you’ll get a job where you can pay this stuff off!’ You really believe it, “Myrick said.

Loan debt to UW-Milwaukee disproportionately affects black students as well.

Nationally, 45.9% of black students graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to But at UW-Milwaukee, only 25 percent of black and African-American students at UW-Milwaukee succeed, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. That’s about half the graduation rate for white UW-Milwaukee students.

This disparity stems at least in part from the fact that students have to drop out of school for financial reasons, said Victoria Pryor, student services program manager at UW-Milwaukee’s Black Student Cultural Center. Pryor said many black students face a troubling dilemma: take out more student loans or quit school.

“I saw several students who had to drop out because they might not have had the last bit of money for tuition or they might have gone through rough times,” said Pryor. “They can graduate but still have $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 in student loans to pay off. It’s the worst thing – having so much money to pay back, and you still don’t have that degree.”

Black students take particularly significant financial risks while attending higher education, Fenaba Addo of UW-Madison said in a 2018 report for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

“(Black students) tend to rely more on student loans than whites, have higher debt, express more concerns about the affordability of loan repayments, and are more likely to default,” Addo said. , faculty member of the University’s Research Institute. on poverty.

To avoid the possibility of racking up more loan debt, many UW-Milwaukee students turn to the university’s financial aid office.

However, the university lags behind similar institutions when it comes to financial aid. The same IPEDS 2020 report found that 58% of UW-Milwaukee students received a grant in the 2018-19 school year, well below the comparison group median of 84%. UW-Milwaukee that year offered students about half of the assistance provided by comparison universities.

Tim Opgenorth, director of financial aid for UW-Milwaukee, said the university lacked funding to cover all needs.

“(The IPEDS data) doesn’t surprise me. We have a very small amount of need-based institutional support that we can provide to students,” Opgenorth said. “The campus realizes that it still has a way to go, and it is trying to raise funds to fix it.”

Pryor, a 1988 UW-Milwaukee alumnus, said many students today have to work, making it difficult to be successful in school.

“I think if we could get more scholarships for our students it could really close the (racial) gap,” Pryor said. “I think our students could do better and wouldn’t have to work two or three jobs. They could focus more on their studies and they might not have to give up.

The national conversation about dealing with student debt has grown stronger since President Joe Biden took office. Biden’s plan is to write off up to $ 10,000 in student loan debt per person; some in the Democratic Party call it too modest.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren are among those calling for a $ 50,000 loan forgiveness for the 43 million Americans who collectively owe more than $ 1.5 trillion.

But some criticize this push to eliminate debt at all levels, fearing it will give the wrong people a break. During the recent online debate, Reason editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie said student debt forgiveness for all would give wealthy families help they don’t need.

“There is no reason on God’s Green Earth that rich people cannot pay their way. When they take out loans or their children take out loans, they have to pay them back,” Gillespie said.

Adam Looney, a member of the Brookings Institution, says that “even modest student loan cancellation proposals are incredibly expensive and … would exceed the cumulative spending of many of the country’s major poverty reduction programs over the past several decades.” . Looney offers more targeted approaches to closing the wealth gap.

But Harrington of the Center for Responsible Lending said that canceling all student loan debt could actually close racial gaps in debt and wealth, adding: “It will literally move so many families to positive wealth from of negative wealth. It is not nothing. It is powerful. “

With no relief yet in sight, Myrick continues to reduce his six-figure loan debt, which continues to take a heavy toll. Debt prevented her family from qualifying for the lowest rate on a home loan, and she blocked plans to start investing in real estate.

Myrick said canceling all student debt would transform his family’s life and help address deep racial disparities in Milwaukee and nationwide.

“Some people wouldn’t even have debts if you wiped them out. I’m one of them,” he said. “I wouldn’t have to work a second job if they cleaned them up. I would have more time with the family. Wiping out student loans at all levels for blacks… that would change everything.”

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