I don’t know about you, but debt scares me. Even though I don’t have any student debt, it still scares me.
I remember when I was an undergrad and a professor told me “If you have to pay to go to grad school in engineering you shouldn’t be going to grad school in engineering.” I have always been a little bit smug about what I thought were good career choices. I have always gotten paid for my efforts. Even as an intern, I was bringing home a paycheck and my friends working as interns in non-STEM fields were not. For the most part, my career path has been financially successful but even with tuition paid and a monthly stipend things get tight.
I know that I am ridiculously lucky. I made it through undergrad paying instate tuition, with the help of my parents and scholarships. I was able to work for two years after undergrad, built up a nest egg and paid off a car. Then, when I did return to grad school I was fully funded (meaning tuition and a monthly stipend). If there were unexpected costs I had my nest egg and I knew I could always call my parents. I am also healthy.
But what about everyone else? Specifically, what about individuals who didn’t have any help in undergrad, so have some left over debt? What about people who can’t call up anyone to help pay a bill when the front wheel bearings go out on their car? What about the ones with a health condition that cost a nontrivial amount of money each month to treat? What about the ones with children?
The American Institute of Research release in data brief in September of this year discussing the student of STEM and social, behavioral and economic (SBE) science PhDs. The results are not surprising, STEM phds have less debt than those of their SBE counterparts but within STEM underrepresented minorities (URM) have a significantly higher level of student debt. There findings are in the figure below.
We are an organization that values diversity, and not just gender diversity. We can talk a lot about culture and unintentional bias as causes of the leaky pipeline but this has to be a part of the discussion too.
[EDIT: I don’t mean to imply that the only people suffering are people who are considered underrepresented minorities, that is demonstrably not the case. The cost of education hurts everyone.]
So what do you think? What can we do, at the very least, to reduce the debt burden for everyone?