Student loan debt totaling $93 billion burdens 3 million LGBTQ young adults

Student loan debt disproportionately burdens LGBTQ young adults, and the disparity is even higher for members of the community who identify as trans and for people of color. This burden is just one of many obstacles these young adults face in completing college and, once finished, moving forward in life.

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According to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law in partnership with the Point Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBTQ scholarship fund, more than a third (35%) of LGBTQ adults ages 18 to 40—about 2.9 million adults—are carrying more than $93.2 billion in federal student loans. The majority (84%) of them owe less than $50,000.

The report analyzed data from the Access to Higher Education Survey, a nationally representative sample of adults ages 18 to 40 conducted in January and February 2021. Researchers examined student loan debt among LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ individuals. The data shows that LGBTQ adults are more likely to have federal student loans than non-LGBTQ adults (35% vs. 23%). Over half (51%) of transgender adults have federal student loans.

“Concern about the burden of student debt has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said lead author Kerith J. Conron, the Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar and Research Director at the Williams Institute. “Research shows that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the economic stability of LGBTQ people, including current LGBTQ students.”

Part of the goal of this study was to fill in an information gap about the impact of student loan debt on the LGBTQ community which was previously absent from student loan forgiveness discussions. The data demonstrates that student loan forgiveness debates are essential to increasing equity, not only in terms of class and race, but also in terms of gender and sexual orientation.

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“It is important that the current policy discussions about loan forgiveness consider the impact on LGBTQ adults, who bear a higher burden of federal student loan debt,” said Jorge Valencia, Point Foundation’s Executive Director and CEO. “The pandemic and the economic fallout could significantly impact LGBTQ people’s ability to pursue higher education.”

Key Student Loan Debt Findings

•          Nearly four in ten (39%) LGBTQ adults have student debt in the form of federal student loans, private student loans, credit cards, or other loans.

•          An estimated 35% of LGBTQ adults, or 2.9 million people, are carrying approximately $93.2 billion in federal student loans.

o          About a third (32%) owe less than $10,000, about half (52%) owe between $10,000 and $49,000, and the rest (16%) owe $50,000 or more.

•          Many (46%) current LGBTQ students and almost a third (31%) of LGBTQ adults who are not current students have federal loans.

•          Four out of 10 (43%) LGBTQ adults who have federal student loans also have private student loan debt. They owe an average of $34,000 in federal loans and $47,500 in total student debt.

The report’s findings also highlight inequalities within the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, transgender individuals are more likely to continue to hold student loan debt in comparison with cisgender people within the same age group. Over half (51%) of transgender adults, 36% of LBQ cisgender females, and 28% of cisgender GBQ males have federal student loans. And while LGBTQ young adults hold on average $34,000 in federal loans, black college graduates in the community owe, on average $25,000 more than their white counterparts.

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For more information, see the report on the Williams Institute site.

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