UNC School of Law Releases Higher Education Equity Report

WASHINGTON, DC—Together with UnidosUS and UNC Center for Community Capital, UNC School of Law released the first report arising out of a generous grant from Lumina Foundation to study the relationship between debt, achievement and equity in higher education, with a specific focus on Latino students.

“Debt, Doubt, and Dreams: Understanding the Latino College Completion Gap” analyzes 1,500 surveys of individuals who started, but did not complete, a college program. With 35 percent identifying as Latino, the data speaks directly to the barriers facing all students seeking higher education and identifies barriers that disproportionately burden Latinos. Specifically, the research asks a critical question: How do attitudes about debt affect postsecondary completion for Latino students?

“Although Latino students show incredible drive to pursue higher education, completion rates for Latinos continue to lag,” says Kate Sablosky Elengold, assistant professor of law and director of Carolina Law’s Consumer Financial Transaction Clinic. “Our data illuminates and complicates a traditional narrative about Latino debt aversion, placing it in the context of other financial and environmental barriers to completion, many of which disproportionately burden Latino students.”

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The report lays out the current information, statistics, and research on higher education, Latinos in higher education, education debt, and the Latino debt aversion narrative. The unique quantitative data collected through this project adds a layer of specificity and nuance to the current conversation about equity in higher education. It primarily finds:

  • Latinos exhibit higher levels of debt aversion with respect to education debt than non-Latinos.
  • Debt aversion is one of the several financial barriers to completion for Latino students. Although Latinos disproportionately report debt aversion as a barrier to college completion, the cost of college emerged to have the most power in explaining the completion gap between Latinos and non-Latinos.
  • Transportation concerns consistently emerged as a critical barrier to completion disproportionately burdening Latino students.

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Download the Executive Summary

“Despite the strong gains that Latinos have made in college enrollment, we know that financial barriers—including ballooning college costs and nontuition expenses—are the biggest deterrent to degree attainment. The findings presented in this study reflect how a debt-financed higher education system exacerbates existing inequities for Latino students and the need for immediate policy change to prevent Latinos from mortgaging their futures in exchange for a degree,” said Roxanne Garza, Policy Advisor of the Education Policy Project at UnidosUS.

“This research is novel and compelling,” says Dr. Katherine Wheatle, Strategy Officer for Federal Policy and Racial Equity. “Lumina Foundation is thrilled to support higher education research that sheds new light on equity disparities in financing higher education for Latino students and families. This report, the first in a two-part series, will be of great help to policymakers and advocates looking to ground education reforms in equity analysis.”

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. UnidosUS is a national nonpartisan organization that serves the Hispanic community through research, policy analysis and advocacy efforts. And the UNC Center for Community Capital conducts research on financial, social, and human capital that can advance knowledge, improve policy, inform practice, and create more equitable social and economic systems.

Although the quantitative data is critical, the research team now begins qualitative data collection, interviewing up to 50 Latino survey respondents, along with program and policy analysts from UnidosUS affiliates around the country. Comprehensive results will be released in the upcoming year.

“We are grateful to Lumina Foundation for their commitment to funding this research and to our research partners at UnidosUS and the UNC Center for Community Capital,” says Elengold. “The ability to bring together minds from law, policy, social science, and the community allows for a truly multi-disciplinary approach to the complex and knotty problem of equity in higher education.”

The grant from Lumina Foundation supports For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the University’s history. The gift also reinforces UNC School of Law’s commitment to recruit, retain and reward world-renowned faculty who create meaningful learning experiences for our future lawyer-leaders.