Parent PLUS is a federal student loan program that allows parents to take out student loans for their children's postsecondary education. Parents can borrow up to the student's total cost of attending the college of their choice--there is no dollar cap on the amount that parents can borrow.
Originally, the Parent PLUS program had very low eligibility criteria, and the Department of Education was making loans to parents who had a history of bad debts. DOE tightened the criteria in 2011, which raised an outcry from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
HBCUs favor Parent PLUS loans because DOE does not report default rates on these loans and does not penalizes colleges for high Parent PLUS default rates. As Fishman explained, "Parent PLUS loans are not included in CDR [cohort default rate] calculations, rendering them a no-strings-attached revenue source for colleges and universities" (P. 9). Indeed, for many colleges, "Parent PLUS loans are like grants; they get money from the federal government and the parent is on the hook to repay."
In response to strenuous protests from HBCUs, the Obama administration backed off on its efforts to make borrowing standards more rigorous, and the amount of money parents borrow under the program has increased. According to Fishman, the percent of Parent PLUS borrowers with debt over $50,000 increased from 3 percent in 2000 to 13 percent in 2014 (p. 19).
Basically, the Department of Education is toadying to the HBCUs by loaning money recklessly to African American families that probably can't pay it back. In fact, Fishman reported that one third of African American parents taking out PLUS loans had incomes so low they were able to make zero estimated family contributions (EFC) to their children's college costs.
As Fishman points out, Parent PLUS loans adds to a family's total debt for putting a child through college. Black families with zero EFC accumulate an average of $33,721 in "intergenerational indebtedness," which includes an average of $11,000 in PLUS loans in addition to the amount borrowed by the students themselves.
Fishman's report adds to a growing body of evidence showing that African Americans are getting screwed by the federal student loan program. Ben Miller, writing for the Center for American Progress (as reported by Fishman) "found that 12 years after entering college, the median Black borrower owed more than the original amount borrowed." And default rates for African American college graduates is almost triple the rate for white graduates: 25 percent for black graduates and only 9 percent for white graduates.
A Brookings Institution report also calculates high default rates for black student borrowers. Judith Scott's Brookings report estimates that 70 percent of African American borrowers in the 2003-2004 cohort will ultimately default.
And the student-loan default rate for African Americans who drop out of for-profit schools without graduating is catastrophic. Three out of four black students who borrow money to attend a for-profit institution and drop out before graduating default on their student loans.
But who gives a damn if the federal student loan program screws African American students and their families? HBCUs like the Parent PLUS program, because the Parent PLUS default rate doesn't penalize the colleges. Parent PLUS money is essentially "free money" to a HBCU although one third of African American families who take out these loans show zero ability to repay.
Rachel Fishman. The Wealth Gap PLUS. How Federal Loans Exacerbate Inequality of Black Families. New America.org, May 2018.
Andrew Kreighbaum. How Parent Plus Worsens the Racial Wealth Gap. Inside Higher Ed, May 15, 2018.
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