Large Numbers of Black Students Experience Distress Over the Cost of Higher Education

Micere-KeelsA new study led by Micere Keels, an associate professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, finds that many Black and other minority college students suffer from anxiety over worrying about being able to pay their bills in order to stay enrolled in higher education.

Dr. Keels surveyed a large group of Black and Latino college students three times over the course of their first-year in college. At each juncture, Dr. Keels report that about 35 percent of the students “reported having difficulty paying their bills, being upset that they did not have enough money and being concerned that they would not be able to afford to complete their degree.”

Dr. Keels found that students who experienced a high level of financial anxiety fell into three groups. First were students who enrolled who knew there was unmet financial need and knew they would have to take a job or find other financial support. Another group thought their financial needs were covered but then did not receive the anticipated funding. A third group believed that financial aid would cover all their costs but discovered that living expenses, book fees, and other costs were not accounted for. Dr. Keels also found that many Black and Latino students who experienced financial distress were also likely to develop depression symptoms.

Dr. Keels joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 2004. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta and holds a master’s degree in psychology from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and a Ph.D. in human development and social policy from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.


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  1. B. Frances Alden says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you (!!) for documenting what most of my generation of fellow students experienced (beginning) in the 1980’s. This was when “Reaganomics” quietly began cutting ALL aid for economically disadvantaged students, and simultaneously undermining, discrediting (and eventually dismantling) Affirmative Action programs. Contrary to the (very) popular, and politically useful, myth of college students of color “enjoying a free ride”, my college years & those of so many of my “First Generations” peers were fairly hellish because of exactly the financial concerns and chronic pressures this article sites. (Add to this the racism we confronted in the classroom, the curricula and in campus social settings; and we were more heroic than most people know.) My First Generation peers and I also suffered from ongoing guilt that we had delayed becoming the breadwinners our families needed us to be. (And because we kept quiet about that suffering, — because we still counted ourselves lucky (!) — even many other people of color, in our communities back home, thought we were having “cushy lives”. Add “the sinker” student loan debt, and you will begin to get the picture. — I bet if anyone ever cared enough to do a study of Complex PTSD (i.e. the kind you get from unrelenting chronic severe stress) among economically-disadvantaged African American (Native and Latino American) recent graduates & advanced degree holders, I do not doubt those figures would be telling. (My thirty-plus years of informally collecting anecdotal evidence completely supports this.) …This country sold so many of it’s Brightest and Best down the river yet again. And, with notable exceptions, it’s been doing so ever since. I truly PRAY the many wealthy celebrities (of color especially, but others as well) will begin creating (more) full-funding scholarship funds for economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented young people and older folks IN THIS COUNTRY… We desperately need them… Aside from the terrible tragedy of loss of and reduction of opportunities for so many, there’s an added cost, which we are just beginning to fully see: Economically AND educationally left out people do not make rational electoral decisions, let alone good ones.

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