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Publication Date

November 2020


Kate Sablosky Elengold, Jess Dorrance, and Robert Agans


Lumina Foundation

This research explores whether and how our debt-driven higher education system makes it difficult for students to finish a college program or degree. Reporting original survey data, Debt, Doubt, and Dreams: Understanding the Latino College Completion Gap specifically considers the role that debt plays in the Latino/non-Latino college completion gap.

The quantitative research, gathered from more than 1,500 respondents from across the country, explores the primary barriers making college completion difficult. With 35 percent of the respondents identifying as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latinx, the data shed critical light on the unique circumstances and particular challenges facing Latino students. The report contextualizes the data within existing literature, bridging the gap between prior research on college completion and student debt.

The report makes the following primary findings: 


  • Latinos exhibit higher levels of debt aversion with respect to education debt compared to non-Latinos: Across three measures, Latino respondents reported heightened debt aversion relative to non-Latino respondents. The data, however, supports the notion that debt aversion is a complex and nuanced construct and is deeply connected to other stressors and experiences.
  • Debt aversion is only one of several financial barriers to completion for Latino students: Latino students reported heightened financial barriers while in college and as a barrier to completion at a significantly greater level than non-Latinos. The costs of college had the greatest power in explaining the differences in barriers to college completion between Latinos and non-Latinos.
  • Transportation consistently emerged as a barrier disproportionately burdening Latino students and had significant power in explaining the completion gap between Latinos and non-Latinos: In comparing Latinos and non-Latinos, transportation surfaced as the greatest differentiator with respect to financial stressors driving the need to leave a college program.

Topics(s): Debt & Credit, Higher Education, Voices of Student Loan Borrowers