Student Loans are Widening the Wealth Gap: Time to Focus on Equity

Lewis, Melinda
College Debt
Publication type: 

Higher education plays a critical role in the U.S. economy, creating a ladder of economic opportunity for American children, especially for those in poverty. However, despite our collective belief in an American dream of equitable opportunities for all, higher education today increasingly reinforces patterns of relative privilege, particularly as students rely more and more on student loans to finance college access. As borrowing reduces the return on a college degree—by failing to support strong educational attainment and by compromising post-graduation financial security— the inequity of our financial aid system is laid bare. By investing in student borrowing to the exclusion of asset-based approaches with the potential to deliver superior outcomes, we jeopardize the legitimacy of the American dream.

Reimagining financial aid to include asset accumulation for those currently disadvantaged has the potential to meet one of our most critical challenges: equipping enough students to succeed in college education to power future societal economic prosperity, at a cost individual students and our collective economy can afford. This report challenges current assumptions about the innocent nature of student loans and proposes asset-based complements that could transform higher education into an institution of equitable opportunity and a foundation of a revitalized America.

Read the full report


Elliott, W. and Lewis, M. (2013). Are student loans widening the wealth gap in America? It’s a question of equity. Lawrence, KS: Assets and Education Initiative (AEDI).

New Book Released

Today’s student loan system is in place because of a political compromise, and growing discontent with student debt may signal that this arrangement has run its course. While there are resources and organizations in place to help those struggling with debt, the time has come to consider a new direction for financial aid, William Elliott III and Melinda Lewis argue in “Student Debt: A Reference Handbook.”

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