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It is not uncommon to collapse family savings, scholarships and federal loans to pay for college.
What is less common: a loan to the parents of the students. Parents The PLUS loan provides funds to parents with only a minimal check to see if they have the funds to repay it.
Among color families, the loan is much more common – and these families are more likely to be paid off. . Parent PLUS loans have special disadvantages. They have higher interest rates compared to direct loans: 7.1% and 4.5% respectively; they are not related to income-based repayment; They tend to leave older Americans paying well into retirement.
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The repayment of the Parent PLUS loan is especially evident among families at historically black colleges and universities, called HBCU's.
How Parental PLUS Loans Harm HBCU Families
To understand the effect of Parental PLUS Loans on HBCUs, we examined data sets from the Department of Education and the National Center for Educational Statistics, especially the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study 2015 -16, which we sorted to look at students whose parents still consider them dependent.
It is a much higher percentage than black students' share of national student body as a whole: 12%.
This over-representation may not seem significant, but it becomes more pronounced when we divide loans by parents' income.
It is clear that parents who borrow disproportionately hurt black families, especially black low-income families.
For white families, lending parent PLUS loans can be more of a financial strategy for moving around money and assets without putting too much money into higher education. More than 60% of white borrowers have annual household incomes over $ 75,000. They are the people this program was originally designed for – middle-class families. And they are more able to pay off the loans in the future.
But for black families, the parents PLUS loan is more likely to be the last trench tool to send their children to college. Over 40% of borrowers have an annual household income of $ 30,000 or less. Their kids have probably already maxed out the amount they can borrow in federal student loans. Without parents PLUS loans, students cannot afford to go to college. But the heavy debt burden on parents, combined with the student debt levels, can lead lower-income families much deeper into debt.
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And the situation gets worse. Parent PLUS loans at HBCU have grown over four years, according to data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.
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HBCU students have been heavily reliant on parent PLUS loans to fund student costs.
More than 20% of HBCU students used parent PLUS loans to cover student costs. at least 30% of the costs, while only 14.3% of the total students needed the loans.
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To see how this plays out for individual colleges, we compared three HBCUs in Atlanta with a majority white private college in the same city, Emory University, using reports from the Office of Federal Student Aid.  Spelman College, Morehouse College and Cl Ark Atlanta University combined have a similar number of students as Emory University. But Emory parents have taken on a small fraction of their parents' PLUS loans as parents at the three HBCUs.
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We collapsed with a number of other small, private colleges from around the country with about the same many students like these three HBCUs. It shows a strong comparison between the amount HBCU's parents borrowed and parents at similar colleges.
USA TODAY's Javier Zarracina and Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education, contributed to this project.
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