At every stage of our research, we collaborate with community organizations, policy advocates, and policymakers.
The Racial Wealth Gap and Student Loan Debt
Our research dispelled myths that most borrowers are well off, showing that Black and low-wealth households carry disproportionate shares of student debt. This research was cited by Senator Warren and others in advocating for the Biden executive action to increase debt cancellation from $10,000 to $20,000 for former Pell recipients. Further research asks if Black and low-wealth debt burdens could be reduced through changes to financial aid formulas.
Student debt cancellation is not “regressive.” We refute this myth and show that Black and low-income borrowers stand to gain the most from cancellation plans.
Addressing the Black student debt crisis requires a corrective history, systematic analysis, and theoretical explanation grounded in racial capitalism.
The federal government, not student borrowers should ask for forgiveness.
Wall Street Pressures in Higher Education and Beyond
We have shown that private equity-owned for-profit colleges and online degree subcontractors disproportionately enroll marginalized students and have poor graduation and loan repayment outcomes. This research has been extensively cited in Congressional hearings and Department of Education rulemaking that led to the cancellation of $21 billion in for-profit college student debt and consumer protections for for-profit and online degree programs. In partnership with the Roosevelt Institute and Berkeley Economyand Society Initiative, we plan to expand our research on private equity to other important sectors like healthcare.
Online education is a form of “predatory inclusion.” It targets Black and low-income students but leads to lower graduation rates and worse repayment outcomes—even in non-profits.
Public university contracts with for-profit online program managers financed by private equity or venture capital are more likely to include features associated with predatory inclusion.
Private equity buyouts in higher education result in higher tuition and per-student debt.
Multi-brand organizational structures allow for-profit colleges to provide substandard products, while evading legal action and reputational penalties.
Administrative Burdens in Financial Aid and Debt Relief Programs
We uncovered punitive administrative burdens in financial aid programs that led more than 300,000 California students to incur debts when they left school during COVID, likely because of health and economic hardships. Following this research, the California Coalition for Borrower Rights and Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco introduced Assembly Bill 1160 Protecting Students from Creditor Colleges Act to remove re-enrollment barriers for these students. Similarly, we provided the most robust evidence to date that administrative burdens disproportionately prevent low-income and Black borrowers from receiving debt relief under income-driven repayment programs.
College students in the state of California accrued around $390 million in student debts to their institutions during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years.
Income-driven student repayment programs are hindered by administrative burdens that impede borrowers in lower-income and higher-percentage-Black census blocks from seeking relief.
Racialized Equity Labor in White Spaces
We coined the term “racialized equity labor” to describe the often-uncompensated efforts of people of color to address systemic racism and racial marginalization within postsecondary spaces characterized by white leadership, a white student body, and/or practices of historically white research universities. Our work documents the efforts of student activists, staff, and faculty to change their campuses and resist watered down university initiatives centering individual difference in favor of collective social action.
Student activists of color labor to make their campuses safe and comfortable for historically underrepresented populations—but do so at a personal cost.
The nature and intensity of racialized equity labor undertaken by university employees depends on organizational logics of “diversity” vs. “equity.”
Public defunding undermines cultural programming for racially marginalized students, ultimately outsourcing labor to students and employees of color.
Watch as Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Caleb Dawson discusses (un)free labor and the costs of service work in the university.
Coming Soon: Du Bois, Data Visualization Innovations, and Underrepresented Student Belonging in STEM
In partnership with Fisk University and Princeton University, we have received $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to study if the centering of underrepresented innovators in STEM curriculum may increase a sense of belonging and educational persistence by underrepresented students. We will test this thesis by developing a 1-week lesson plan module for STEM research methods courses. The lesson plan will teach STEM students about statistical and data visualization innovations by Black social scientist W.E.B. Du Bois and his diverse collaborators.
Lab Research Publications
Promising or Predatory? Online Education in For-Profit and Non-Profit Universities
Administrative Burden in Federal Student Loan Repayment, and Socially Stratified Access to Income-Driven Repayment Plans
The Private Side of Public Universities: Third-Party Providers and Platform Capitalism
Bankers in the Ivory Tower: The Troubling Rise of Financiers in US Higher Education
Creditor Colleges: Canceling Debts that Surged During COVID-19 for Low-Income Students
“Diversity Is a Corporate Plan”: Racialized Equity Labor among University Employees
White Paper for Senator Warren on Student Debt
Student Debt Cancellation Is Progressive: Correcting Empirical and Conceptual Errors
Broke: The Racial Consequences of Underfunding Public Universities
Asymmetry by Design? Identity Obfuscation, Reputational Pressure and Consumer Predation in U.S. For-Profit Higher Education
Tolerable Suboptimization: Racial Consequences of Defunding Public Universities
When Investor Incentives and Consumer Interests Diverge: Private Equity in Higher Education
Racialized Equity Labor, University Appropriation, and Student Resistance