Black students in Wisconsin grapple with debt



When Clint Myrick graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2010, he walked away with two important papers: a degree for 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 sort of had to figure it all out on my own.

Myrick has worked a number of college jobs helping pay bills, 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.


The nonprofit news outlet Wisconsin Watch provided this article to The Associated Press as part of a collaboration with the Institute for Nonprofit News.


Over a decade later, Myrick’s student loan debt has only skyrocketed, even after years of payments. Interest pushed the debt to $ 152,039, the highest level ever. The husband and father of three has multiple jobs to service 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 have an estimated federal debt of $ 24.4 billion, with a median debt of $ 17,323, according to Governor Tony Evers’ 2020 Task Force on Student Loan Debt. Nationally, the toll of crippling student debt levels on tens of millions of Americans has prompted some calls for large-scale loan cancellations.

This burden weighs unevenly on students. According to, black and African American college graduates on average owe 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 the majority minority postal codes of 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 literacy education for K-12 students; increase in financial assistance according to need; loan remission for graduates entering certain professions; state tax credits; and a student debt refinancing mechanism to lower 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 borrowers.”

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

A report from the UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development 2020 compared Milwaukee’s black community to that of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan cities, finding that black residents of Milwaukee were 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 drives 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 about canceling student loans, Ashley Harrington of the Center for Responsible Lending said many black students are gravely burdened with this loan debt. The nonprofit works to protect homeownership and family wealth 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’s Alma Mater, 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 taking out student loans in the 2018-19 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 the loans, and you’ll get a job where you can pay these things off!” You really believe it, ”Myrick said.

Loan debt at UW-Milwaukee also disproportionately affects black students in other ways.

Nationwide, 45.9% of black students graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to But in UW-Milwaukee, only 25% of black and African American students at UW-Milwaukee achieve this, 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 of school because they might not have had that last little bit of money for tuition or they might have fallen on hard times. “Said Pryor. “They can graduate, but they still have $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 in student loans to repay. 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 a higher debt burden, express more concerns about the accessibility of loans, and are more likely to default,” Addo said. , a faculty affiliated with the University’s Institute for Research. on poverty.

To avoid the possibility of further indebtedness, 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%. That year, UW-Milwaukee offered students about half of the assistance provided by comparison universities.

Tim Opgenorth, director of financial aid at 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 institutional, need-based support that we can give to students, ”Opgenorth said. “The campus realizes that it has a long way to go and is trying to raise funds to fix it.”

Pryor, a UW-Milwaukee alumnus in 1988, said many students today have to work, which makes it difficult to do well in school.

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

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

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

But some criticize this attempt 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 should not pay their way. When they take out loans or their children take out loans, they should pay them back, ”said Gillespie.

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

But Harrington of the Center for Responsible Lending said that canceling all student loans could effectively close the racial gaps in debt and wealth, adding, “It will literally lead so many families to positive wealth from a home. negative wealth. It’s not nothing. It is powerful. “

With no relief 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 any student debt will transform his family’s lives and help address deep racial disparities in Milwaukee and nationwide.

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



About Author

Leave A Reply