Black & In Debt: Balancing Student Loans And Building A Professional Career

kelly-quote

In the second part of our Black & In Debt series, we spoke with Kelly, a Black borrower who took out student loans for her MBA program.

 

How would you describe your relationship with student debt?

In a word: a burden. But it felt like a necessary evil. I think about the limitations it puts on my life—that if I don’t have to pay X dollars a month, what would be different? What would I be able to do professionally? In my personal life? How I view it, it’s this limiting factor. 

 

What are the specific ways student debt has limited you?

It limits the type of salaries I can take; it limits being able to save more for long-term goals whether that’s retirement or purchasing a home. A chunk of my salary is going towards paying back those loans for the foreseeable future. 

But at the end of the day, it’s just another financial commitment that I have. It just seems really overpriced, the tuition and the degree itself. That’s frustrating, but I think there’s a comfort in knowing that so many people have done the same thing. 

 

It certainly feels less lonely when you know others are also fighting this battle. But even though student debt is a burden for everyone, it impacts people differently. Studies have shown that Black Americans, in particular, are taking on more debt than white Americans. For you, how do you see student debt relating to race?

It isn’t about the student debt itself, it’s about the system around it.

When you talk about student loans, it is this promissory note that if you have this degree you’ll be able to command a higher salary. But that is predicated off the good faith that the hiring manager is not prejudiced or that the job description is not written in a discriminatory way. All of those things have to not exist anymore for my education to be as valuable as it should be. 

 

Are there any direct ways that you’ve seen this racism impact your life and the lives of those around you?

It’s the little insidious ways that have a lot to do with generational wealth or the lack of generational wealth for Black folks in the US. 

We, collectively, took student loans for undergrad, so there’s an effect of having $50,000-$60,000 of debt from undergrad and then compounding that with a graduate degree.

But we look at what senior leadership looks like in corporate America and it’s not Black or brown. It’s very white, it’s very male. So when you think about all these Black folks getting MBAs but not getting into senior leadership, that has effects on their salaries and what they are able to do for their families, like amassing wealth for themselves. 

So it’s not a matter of not having the education, right? We can look at any top MBA program and at least 5% of the class each year are Black people but often we get stuck in middle management with the same amount of debt or more debt than the people who are leap-frogging ahead of us in corporate America, where most MBAs go. 

 

That’s the most frustrating part. This debt for Black borrowers in America is just carried onto the next generation and the cycle perpetuates.

Yeah, and research around the racial wealth gap shows that education doesn’t actually propel Black families forward when it comes to amassing wealth. The average wealth of a Black family with a college degree is less than that of a white household without a bachelor’s degree. But that’s crazy, right? 

If you had to take out loans because your family couldn’t afford to fund your college degree then that means you are starting at a negative.

 

And so, after discussing all these topics, do you think it was worth it to take out your loans?

Yeah, I mean it sounds crazy but yeah. I made a huge career change and I definitely value the degree. Obviously not the loans, the loans were necessary for me to get the degree. For me, it was really valuable and has been very valuable to me professionally so (sighs) worth it…I guess? It’s hard to say.

 

To learn more about the Black student debt experience and how debt perpetuates the racial wealth gap, check out the first part of our series, Black & In Debt: The Inequitable Burden of Student Loans on Black Borrowers

Thank you to Kelly for taking the time to share her story. If you are Black student loan borrower and are interested in receiving help and sharing your story with us, please email us at [email protected]

    Learn more about the student debt crisis

    Stay updated on the student debt crisis—our report, The Domino Effect, reveals the latest trends.