Americans collectively owe more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, and Black students owe disproportionately high amounts. Black students are more likely to face a combination of financial circumstances that can make student loan repayment especially difficult. With these systemic problems in mind, University of Delaware alumna Tisa Silver Canady wrote Borrowing While Black, a book designed to help Black students graduate with less debt and pay that debt off faster.
Canady, who graduated from UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics with a degree in finance and economics in 2001 and an MBA in 2003, served as the director of financial education and wellness at the University of Maryland before going on to found Silver Canady & Associates, an educational research and consulting firm. In this question-and-answer interview, she discusses the inspiration behind Borrowing While Black and what readers can learn from it.
Lerner: What inspired you to write Borrowing While Black?
Canady: The inspiration to write the book actually began with a query I received through Twitter. A student from Howard University reached out to ask if I would contribute to an article about Black college students and borrowing. Initially, I thought about the consistent themes I had observed throughout the years I had spent counseling graduate and professional students on how to repay six-figure student loan debt, and I jotted down some thoughts.
Then, I began to look at statistics on student loans and search for similarities or differences. I found several sources that pointed to disparities between Black and non-Black borrowers. I was able to find plenty of studies and policy recommendations, but I did not see many tools geared toward helping Black students learn the facts and take steps to achieve better outcomes.
The experience left me with what I felt was too much material for one book, so I decided to create a three-book series, Melanin, Money, & Matriculation. I am currently working on the remaining two manuscripts: Black Women Beyond the Bachelor’s and When Borrowing Becomes A Family Affair. My hope for the series is that increased awareness will spark action and eventually, improve outcomes.
Lerner: Can you talk more about some of the unique circumstances Black students may face when it comes to student loans?
Canady: Generally speaking, Black students tend to borrow in larger amounts, borrow more often, graduate at lower rates, earn lower wages upon graduation and experience greater difficulty in repayment (as measured by instances of student loan default). This combination amounts to a significant barrier on the journey to achieving financial independence and building wealth.
One study cited in the book revealed that Black bachelor’s degree graduates were five times as likely to default as their White counterparts. Defaulting on a student loan means the borrower has missed payments for more than 270 days. The consequences of default cover a wide range, from having transcripts withheld and being charged late fees and penalties all the way to becoming subject to legal action, having federal benefits seized or a professional license revoked. From a financial perspective, the consequences of default are detrimental to a person’s credit and their ability to earn a living.
Overall wellness should be considered, too. Depression and anxiety sometimes accompany debt and especially debt that is not in a good standing.
Lerner: What advice can students find in your book?
Canady: Students can find specific advice on how to improve their financial and educational outcomes. My goal was to provide clear and concise steps for students to take toward borrowing less money and borrowing less often, as well as strategies to increase their chances of graduating on time. I reflected on my experiences as a student and instructor to offer some free, easy ways to stand out in the classroom, build relationships with peers and faculty and access campus resources.
Strategies on how to find student loan benefits (such as forgiveness, cancellation and tax credits or deductions) and avoid default are also included.
Lerner: Where can interested readers find Borrowing While Black?
Lerner: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Canady: I would love to speak to the importance of campus financial aid administrators (FAAs). They are often unsung heroes, as they serve as a conduit between students and resources to pay for higher education. The federal government dedicates billions to help students pay for college every year, but those dollars cannot be accessed without the work of FAAs.
FAAs also work with state higher education agencies, academic departments, private lenders, and even local employers to help students access multiple sources of funding for college. Relief packages related to COVID-19 (and the reporting requirements that accompany those packages) have added to their responsibilities as well. Much happens behind the scenes that students and other campus stakeholders may not be privy to.
February is actually Financial Aid Awareness Month as celebrated by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. I encourage students, staff and faculty to take a moment to learn a bit about financial aid and send a note of encouragement or thanks to your financial aid staff.