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About This Episode

Katherine Wheatle, Ph.D. (@DrKWheatle) is the strategy officer for federal policy and equity at Lumina Foundation. Based in Lumina’s office in Washington, D.C., Wheatle supports the development and advancement of the foundation’s federal policy priorities to increase education attainment and affordability. In this role, she has worked with key federal policy and research partners, civil rights organizations, student advocacy groups, intermediaries, think tanks, and other policy advocates to enhance understanding of racial equity and deepen the collective commitment to achieving it.

In her prior role at Lumina, Wheatle focused on issues affecting college affordability and finance, including state-level efforts to support the success of adult learners, the challenges and opportunities facing borrowers of color, and innovative funding approaches such as increasing the influx of private capital to minority-serving institutions.

Today’s episode is the deep dive of deep dive episodes, so put on your policy hats. We hope you are prepared to learn about how a recent report led by Dr. Wheatle called Changing the Narrative on Student Borrowers of Color is helping lead difficult conversations discussing the effect of endemic structural racism on inequitable student outcomes.


  • The Lumina Foundation and their commitment to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all
  • Commonly accepted myths surrounding student borrowers of color
  • How direct and indirect systemic failures have negatively impacted communities of color
  • Recommendations for changing the narrative surrounding student borrowers of color
  • And much more…

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Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:00:00): In this moment, racial equity has become a catchphrase in the general lexicon, but you know, not everyone knows exactly what that means, what that pertains to

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:00:15): Welcome to the student loan podcast. Here, you'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans, where your hosts, Daphne, Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:00:33): Welcome to another episode of the student loan podcast. You may have heard the saying jumping in feet first. Well, that is what we are doing today. We are fortunate enough to have Dr. Katherine Wheatle joined the show. Now, Dr. Wheatle is the strategy officer for federal policy and equity at Lumina foundation. And our work has been instrumental in enhancing the understanding of racial equity and deepening the public's commitment to achieving it. We are going to take a deep dive into the false narratives that surround student loan, borrowers of color and recommendations to combat them from Dr. Wheatle and Lumina foundation's recent report. Let's put our thinking caps, or should I say swimming caps on, see what I did there, but seriously putting all bad jokes and puns aside. Let's turn it over to Dr. Katherine Wheatle.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:01:18): Hey, I am originally from North New Jersey from state County almost 20 years ago. Um, had my own college going experience as a first-generation student, a black student. And, uh, I think that experience from then till now, um, has huge impact on my work now working for Lumina foundation and, uh, being an higher education, uh, policy person.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:01:50): That's fantastic. So how about, what is the Lumina foundation let's start off there and then we'll go into the report.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:01:55): Yeah, sure. Lumina foundation is an independent private national foundation committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Uh, we are committed to an equity first approach that focuses on black, Hispanic, and Latino and native student variances in success and our goal. And knowing that in order to create an equitable and just society, we have to support efforts to eradicate systemic racial inequities and what that looks like for college students. We know that today's students are older, they're caretakers, they, um, are working, they stop out and, um, have transfer credits. And we want not just the system, but policy to be responsive to how students are engaging in higher education,

Shamil Rodriguez (00:02:49): Phenomenal that's great work looking forward to getting into it. And so, as I mentioned, an introduction of the changing the narrative on student borrowers of color, uh, which a product of Lumina foundation is what we're going to be covering today. So Katherine, how about you walk the listeners through the background of what is the, this report, you know, why did it come about? And then we can really dig into the content of the actual report itself.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:03:15): Sure, sure. And I can kind of connect it to a little bit of my own personal history. So I started living in working full time in DC about five years ago. And just then the conversation about affordability overall was really important and connected to completion. But I avoided conversations about student loans and student loan debt because of how anxiety producing it could be, or was for me as a person who worked in the field, but also had my own student loan debt and my own student loan debt story. And so when I'm working in philanthropy and policy and engaging in strategic planning with my colleagues at that time, um, it was about two years ago. Uh, we knew that student loans free college, those types of proposals were growing in the public interest. And we wanted to be thoughtful about how people of color experts of color were being included.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:04:26): And at that time, not really included in shaping the conversation and discussion. And so from there, we, uh, decided to bring together a working group, our borrowers of color working group of 11 phenomenal experts, policy researchers, advocates of their own rights to come together and help us think about what policies narratives, what are the barriers and contextualizes that is necessary for general conversation on student loans, as it pertains to communities of color so that we are maintaining the dignity of people of color and, you know, the decisions that families have to make in order to finance higher education for them selves for their students. So our goal is to be a contextualized or while the country is waiting through some of these contentious issues when it comes to student loan debt,

Shamil Rodriguez (00:05:35): A lot to attempt to accomplish in one report,

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:05:41): Beginning the conversation, right? So, uh, in this, in this moment, uh, racial equity is become, uh, or has become a catch phrase in the general lexicon, but you know, not everyone knows exactly what that means, what that pertains to. And so from our vantage point, we get to engage super smart people who have dedicated their lives to researching black students, let the next students and native students that can elevate the conversation and talk about variables that are really impacting how people engage or decide to take on student loans, who is paying it down and how and why, so that we can get to sharper better proposals and policies.

Daphné Vanessa (00:06:35): So it sounds like the work that the outcome of the working group is to really come up with policy solutions for the administration. Am I understanding that correctly

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:06:46): Just for the administration? And I think, um, the change in presidential administration and definitely from, um, uh, multiple campaign conversations that it gives us an opportunity, especially if these, this department of ed, um, and this Congress intends to move on policies and legislation regarding student loans and affordability overall, I would say that the main goal of the working group is to, um, help call out specific issues for specific communities of color. So for example, we hear a lot about black students and student loan, borrowers defaulting, despite having a college degree in comparison to their white peers. Um, but we need to get a little bit more deeply into why that might be the case. We hear, uh, quite a bit about how Latino borrowers, um, tend to be more debt averse. And sometimes that's framed in while, you know, you don't want him to take as much debt.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:07:57): That's a good thing, and everyone should be that way. And I think that's a little simplified. Um, it doesn't get into what are the considerations for Latino families and is there an opportunity to help support people in taking out that in the short term and what that means for completion and really for native student borrowers? I think there's a huge misunderstanding that we've come to learn that the idea that native students go to college for free is quite damaging. And if state level policy makers, if board of trustees and Porter, Regents members are believing those things to be true, then that's going to come out in the policies that they support or don't support and how they can be advocates for students in affordability.

Daphné Vanessa (00:08:51): That makes a lot of sense. So it is demographic specific solutions for the country instead of overarching policy, which makes a lot of sense.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:09:02): Right, right. And, uh, just to kind of get ahead of where I think some policy and legal walks get a little weary, um, when folks talk about anti-racist policies or race conscious policies, we definitely have to think about what are the legal limitations. I don't think folks are talking about quota systems because we know that's illegal. However, there are ways that we can help all peers understand the reality of how race impacts different communities and different folks in a way that doesn't trigger zero sum thinking, but really can increase empathy in that empathy can help us finding solutions.

Daphné Vanessa (00:09:52): That's huge. That's really what the country needs generally to get closer to unification is a paradigm shift that you guys are proposing. Right. Right. That's amazing. So how have your research and findings and work of the working group thus far, how does that compare with the solutions that were proposed by the current administration, specifically those regarding MSI minority service institutions?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:10:19): Right. So I want to be thoughtful here and say that Lumina wouldn't necessarily weigh into a specific bill or proposal. But what we can say is that we support any supports to minority serving institutions and other sectors that support students of color and low income students, community colleges, public regionals, there are plenty of small privates that have low endowments that are support still continuing to support high numbers of Pell eligible students. These are the economic engines of the social mobility engines of higher education. And it's kind of not fair because when you read larger stories or see stories on the news, you hear about the public flagships, or you hear about Ivy leagues and that's just not where students are. And then there's another opportunity to stretch the imagination for the general public, because what is really important about this economic crisis right now, and paying attention to the unemployment and the jobless numbers.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:11:37): We see that there are compounding issues happening for working in class or lower income families. And when you compound race and gender onto those things and looking forward, and knowing that by 25, 60, 65% of jobs available will require some type of post-secondary credential. We have to be honest about what are the supports and needs to bring all of us together, bring all of us along. There were issues in affordability before the pandemic. And I know this tends to be heard in multiple social issues, but the pandemic has laid to bare the systemic problems that are impacting people's lives because people don't live single issue or single policy lives are Paul's the proposals can't be. So in one place or sector that is not useful or helpful. So in the report, I'll say that we kind of, uh, we put forward five recommendations to help shift the conversation and to help thinking about policy and those proposals that are available out there.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:12:53): Okay. Katherine, before we go into the five proposed solutions in the report, I wanted to see if you could lay down some of the foundation in terms of the false narratives and the tropes that the working group is looking to address, uh, to actually help policymakers. So would you mind just going into that into the demographics and kind of laying down that foundation for the audience?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:13:13): Sure. So broadly, so much of the discussion about student borrowers of color has been framed by misperceptions generalizations and blaming individuals for what are actually deep systemic flaws. We're in truth, black, Hispanic, Latino, and native American students have distinct experiences and needs, which policy makers and institutional leaders must study and consider in their own light to more effectively address inequity in higher education. So for example, for black borrowers tropes about black student borrowers have tend to be rooted in anti-blackness and show up in systems that drive disparities in education, where the reality is there's been long standing policies outside of higher ed that have denied wealth building in black communities, um, and increase the likelihood of the need to borrow and borrow larger amounts for college black borrowers face wage discrimination on equal employment opportunities. And it makes it difficult to see the social and economic returns on a college degree for black borrowers.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:14:34): And we see that quite a bit for black women who spend the most on their income to pay back their loans that are spending the most time doing so because you can't break through the interest. And so you're not paying as much on the, and then again, thinking about intersectionality and likelihood of black women being essential workers, medical staff, all of those folks that have been impacted or on the front line of the public health crisis. I jokingly say that because I am a narrative research nerd policy is my love language. And I want us all as a country to be loving on black woman in our policy responses for like, you know, borrowers, um, again, thinking about the debt aversion narrative and in the same way, if folks can consider, uh, how Asian American and Pacific Islanders can be framed as a model minority and that narrative unintentionally or unintentionally in some cases hides the needs of folks,

Daphné Vanessa (00:15:49): Katherine, I I'd like to sort of go over what some common rebuttals have been from people who are concerned about the lack of accountability of a particular generation. So how do you plan to in future papers address the arguments that if other demographics have been able to quote, pull themselves up by the bootstraps, by savings, living minimally, et cetera, et cetera, you know, the, you know, the narrative, how, how do you respond to people who say, if other communities have done it, why can't these communities do it?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:16:29): So I, I don't anticipate that we'll, um, produce any future papers, but you know, it is an argument that I've seen and heard because student loan and the specifically the idea of cancellation or forgiveness has come up. And I think the goal for anyone really, and especially as they have invested in their education, is to be able to pay back their loans. That narrative does trigger the zero sum thinking. And I invite folks to consider broader research and not just one's individual experience, that there is a social historical context and really over the last 20, 30 years, we know that student loans and borrowing has worsened over time. But if we can support folks in their understanding, that is not as simple as I did it. You can do it too. The cost of college have skyrocketed over the last 20, 30 years. Um, the costs of college are beyond tuition and fees.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:17:53): Uh, and again, uh, the, the diversifying of the workforce and the needs in the next 10 years at the very least, we know that if a person and adult who, um, has not had any experience beyond high school or the GED will likely need to. And I always think about my mom's experience, who was, uh, I'm a first generation college student and American. Um, my mom took out parent plus loans for me. And last year because of the pandemic was laid off. And the one of the first conversation conversations she and I had was about the possibility of getting associate's degree. And then we have to think about what financing looks like. So I welcome folks to think a little bit more broadly about who students are and what the financial decisions that a working adult would make over time, because this is not something it's not like college is getting any less expensive.

Daphné Vanessa (00:19:06): Right. Right. And in addition, there are historical aspects, right? For each demographic, like the being moved off of your land and murdered for some taken away from your home. I think that the impacts of that are something that, that your piece on education would be incredibly useful for more people to understand.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:19:30): Well, we appreciate that. And, and I'm glad that you call that out. Um, you know, I, I'm also my own writer, historian, um, of policy and higher ed. And so my lens is always thinking about, well, what was it like to be a college student during Jim Crow America? And how, what can we learn about that experience versus what college students are experiencing now? Right. I have a deep interest in student organizing and advocacy and activism, and there's so many student groups that have landed on affordability as a real issue that needs some real results. And they are connecting their experiences to what has happened in society, not just the last year or five years, but broadly, what is the American ethos and how can we take an opportunity to retell that story?

Daphné Vanessa (00:20:33): Yeah, totally agree. And in terms of accountability, again, to go to that point, apologies, what is, what is the line, right? What, where are we on the spectrum or where's looming on the spectrum? Where are you on the spectrum in terms of how much fault, or I wouldn't even call it fault, but I would say how much effort is required on a policy perspective on a societal perspective and how much effort is required on the part of the individual to become educated and learn about what their options are for managing their finances.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:21:08): Sure. You know, this is not about at, I think what I'm hearing is that this is not a full absolution of individual responsibility, right. Um, I knew that at 17, when I was completing my FAFSA at two and three o'clock in the morning that I was going to get a financial aid packages that I had to sit down and explain to my mom, but that was my experience again, almost 20 years ago. And just the end of last year, we're seeing legislation passed and signed about simplifying the FAFSA. When I got again, when I, when I hear the policy discussions or hear them in the mainstream, I don't hear that level of nuance and thinking about the decisions that people make. You know, I laugh when I hear folks talk about, Oh, I, I bought some shoes with my Ms. My refund and all that, but those are, those are things that people internalize, uh, the shame of having student loan debt and connect these individual things and say, Oh, if I hadn't done that, then I wouldn't be in debt today because that's what I told myself.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:22:28): There's a level of shame that we absorbed somewhere along the way in the narratives. So the things that I have had to learn in order to work in this in order to be a part of this process and producing a report like this is, um, you come back shame with information, you know, learn who your lender is, know the terms of your grants, no, your options for repayment and know your rights as a borrower. Um, no you're dead story. And then tell it to yourself and tell it to yourself better. Um, all of my friends who have graduate degrees and in our students there's, or, you know, faculty, and these are, I think there's an assumption of status versus the assumption of income versus an assumption of well that, um, we have to be honest about because you want to be able to say, what are the real impacts of loan debt on different types of folks?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:23:33): It makes me cringe when, when folks talking about Ivy leagues and student loan debt, because if you are wealthy, you don't need a student loan. You know, they completely missed that. There are plenty of people who do not have a post-secondary credential who have student loans, and that is actually a barrier for them to return in, uh, and, and complete some type of credential. We know that the majority of people who default on their loans have less than $10,000, right. Um, right. There are, you know, some data things that, um, just don't align with the narrative. And I think what's really important that since we're in the midst of talking about racial equity and policy, that we have to talk about race.

Daphné Vanessa (00:24:31): Right. Right. Of course.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:24:33): And I respect that there are plenty of folks who are weary or worried, or, you know, I haven't seen it done, but it can.

Daphné Vanessa (00:24:41): I love that. I love that. Talk to us about the family balance sheets proposal. It sounds like along the way there are, there's a collection of your work. That includes a proposal by Sarah to use family balance sheets. What, what are family balance sheets?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:24:59): Sure. And again, thank you to Sarah Saddlemire, who's that Pew charitable trust and leads her own work on student loans and student borrowers, but essentially her work lays out the context for using a family balance sheet. And again, thinking about the family structure, because family structure is not the same. And so, you know, so again, Sarah says giving the opportunity for us to rethink the place in which we make hard decisions about how folks are making decision about financing higher ed.

Daphné Vanessa (00:25:41): Thank you. Thank you for that. Speaking of solutions, we saw your five recommendations in the report, but I'd love to go into them a little bit with you too, to see if we can go a little bit more in depth on those five recommendations. So the first one is improving affordability as a restorative and repairative policy. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:26:05): We wanted to reflect again on the multiple ways that higher ed policy impacts students and institutions. I think sometimes at least within higher ed and practitioners and folks, we think only about the institution level change, and we call things increasing access or an equitable practice. And we have to be thoughtful and intentional if our policies are going to be restorative is, um, or anti-racist. And so we, again, call out income and household has been a proxy for the ability to pay, and that's a limited measure, and it's important to take a more holistic look at household wealth and assets based on, uh, the deeper racial context laid out in the report.

Daphné Vanessa (00:27:08): That makes a lot of sense. Is it within the scope of work of the Lumina foundation to set up guidelines maybe for, for what a restorative policy may be or, or something like that, is that in the scope of work or is that beyond the scope of work

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:27:23): Beyond the scope of work. But, you know, we do work with a lot of think tanks, equity, advocates, researchers, and we can tell that folks are over readying themselves to respond to the moment and being thought leaders and partners alongside our civil rights partners who are focused on again, people, students, and communities alongside associations that represent minority serving institutions, and those folks are going through their work and readings and reports are going to help the rest of us. Think about the parameters for what racial equity looks like and policy yet, you know, it's a, it's a nerve wracking time, but it's also an a time to, you know, run the football down the field in means, because again, I kind of see this as a third reconstruction, right? And huge awakening and reckoning raising awareness amongst all of us were really among the white electorate, white Americans, who not by their lived experience are reflecting and saying, and we know this because we also do messaging research in another area, but we know that folks know it's not fair. And we know that people can recognize when something is unfair. And we know that generally people want to work towards a just society. And so it's, it's helping folks understand that may not have ever thought about race and racism to say, Hey, you have a role to play some learning and unlearning to do. And then it doesn't have to be zero sum thinking. I appreciate that a lot. Yeah.

Daphné Vanessa (00:29:28): So w so we've covered number two, right? Investing in institutions that serve students of color, right. The Biden administration. And

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:29:39): I want it, I want to emphasize kind of be really complicated are now that we're a year later, my goodness, all state budgets are, we're looking at a state leaders and budgets for higher education, what that looks like for public funding. And, um, we know in the last, in the 2008, 2009 recession, how States responded in their funding to higher education institutions and, you know, it's going to be tough, but all the same, I don't think now is the time to pull back on resources to minority serving institutions and calling out HBC use tribal colleges and universities, and in Hispanic serving institutions that are low resource because people of color are gonna weigh their options and going, and we don't want to see huge declines in a moment because that's just going to fuel inequitable outcomes. Right. Right. Absolutely. Go ahead.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:30:43): I just wanted to, uh, give a quick shout out, uh, in a way for number two for the MBA. I don't know Katherine, if you were tracking basketball at all, but that they raised their own, they're also a game this past weekend, you know, over $3 million, that'll be heading towards HBCU. So, um, I think it's, you know, something, you know, that we're, as, as we've kind of alluded to this entire process, that it may be popular culture to speak about equity now. Uh, but it is good to see that we are seeing actual dollars hit, you know, the coffers of, of HBC use is one, one segment that needs to have, you know, more funding, just like we said. And, and, and in your recommendations for number two.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:31:22): Yeah. I think sometimes folks don't think money to the institution will equate to, or result in, I shouldn't say quit to, um, have some impact on enrollment and completion and affordability for students, but the more resources, private resources, endowed resources that an institution has to, um, support the financial aid package of the students. The more they're able to, um, uh, I guess, play with their student, uh, profile, how many folks that they can support. Um, and that does have direct impacts on affordability. Now I invite folks to talk more about how we constructionally do that and what that looks like in philanthropy. It's honestly, it really is great to see so many, um, organizations and people really investing in black colleges, any shout out to the NBA and basketball. Okay. And beyond [inaudible] we follow black women. True. True.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:32:37): We have a great episode where we do celebrities

Daphné Vanessa (00:32:40): And their support for colleges and scholarships in the communities.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:32:43): Oh, that's fun. I'm going to have to listen to that one.

Daphné Vanessa (00:32:45): They made the list, you know, queen V Oh, I'm a huge fan. Oh, I'll stop right now.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:32:54): So happy to like that conversation.

Daphné Vanessa (00:32:57): Yes. But you guys didn't come here to listen about Beyonce. So let's get the Lumina foundation and the solutions,

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:33:10): Pop culture policy.

Daphné Vanessa (00:33:17): I love that. The more we go on, the more love languages you have. That's my girl. Like, that's how I am. Um, so debt forgiveness, right? How debt forgiveness can address racial disparities. So many people have had different conversations about, is it $10,000? Is it $50,000? Is it the whole thing? Talk to us about addressing racial disparities with student debt forgiveness.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:33:49): Yeah. Just to bring in another pop culture, reference forgiveness is the diamonds of the season. You know, like that is the top one of the top three discussed policy issues in the country. And I'm just really shocked by that, because again, I've been in DC for a short period of time. Um, and even just two or three years ago that forgiveness and cancellation, um, was scoffed that as an idea, a legitimate idea, I think for, you know, there's some good reasoning for that at the time, but the landscape and, um, the, the economic imperative, I think has changed quite a bit. I learned about student loan, forgiveness, and debt forgiveness from black economists. Um, like folks like Sandy Darity, who were saying, um, as a means of reparations in restorative policy, uh, that we should consider that student loan debt forgiveness because of the wealth disparities of black families and all of those cultural, social things that are covered in the report, but it's slowly, slowly crept into the mainstream.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:35:22): And I think what makes it most unique right now, or, uh, uh, beyond the, if I paid off my student loans with everyone else should, and that kind of zero sum thinking is the economic imperative that's been brought upon by the public health crisis. And, um, you know, we call out, uh, an example of again, using black and Latino workers in education, hospitality and retail industries and knowing how many jobs have been lost. Um, and how many have been slow to return, especially for those who do not have some time type of post-secondary credential. And so from our perspective, whatever the administration or Congress does in regards to, uh, loan forgiveness, then, you know, we want to make sure that folks are thinking about loan forgiveness broadly, because there's been loan forgiveness before for students that were defrauded by for-profit institutions. There's been conversation about student veterans and student loan, forgiveness teachers, and educators, and other public service loan, forgiveness programs where large, um, well, what we really want folks to understand is that there's an opportunity here about racial equity. That's really clear. Um, and then there's a completion imperative that students who stop out and how debt even debt. Um, and, and I guess this really depends on how much folks that have debt, but that lows at 10,000 or less are there, they're just creating, um, huge impediments for people of color.

Daphné Vanessa (00:37:17): Yeah. And that's maybe touching some people's interest, right?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:37:20): Yeah. And I'll, I'll say, just make it really clear, like holding other variables constant. And I say that for anybody, who's not like deep in research, that's essentially saying, you know, quantitative studies that put all, you can make your considerations for age and institutional tie holding all those variables, constant race and ethnicity still play a significant role in the amount of debt students of color take on and their ability to repay. And we always want to come back to that one example found that 98% of native women borrowers were unable to decrease the principal of their loans. Again, like we love a policy, a love language. We support our teachers, our educators, our nurses, our, you know, those folks that keep society moving forward. Um, and I think it's just a matter of, uh, how far are we willing to go to support those folks too? Yeah,

Daphné Vanessa (00:38:31): No, for sure. Um, I wonder why at a federal level, or I haven't heard yet conversations about a percentage instead of a number, right. Looking at the total outstanding amount and saying X percentage of everyone's loans would be forgiven and X percentage of, of MSIs or sorry. People who graduated from MSIs or people from certain demographic backgrounds, like maybe the percentage is more what we have to think about and less the number.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:39:04): Uh, that's interesting. I don't know, to me that raises some issues and I recognize I haven't talked about the, how yeah. In, um, in debt forgiveness and that's partially because the report doesn't, it is not intended to weight in, on if we should, or if we shouldn't, but you know, there's a lot of implications here. Um, and I think doing a percentage of that forgiveness would be more complicated probably with your servicers and even just thinking about if it was 10,000, let's say we have to think about how much interest lost and how would FSA go about doing it from there truly yeah.

Daphné Vanessa (00:39:57): Question 10,000 off of principle, and it doesn't go towards interest at all.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:40:02): And just to save your listeners, that's the level of stuff within DC. Honestly, it's probably the books of how are we going to do this? And, you know, another argument that I think, you know, that's fair, but let's reframe is, uh, looking specifically like black borrowers. I think I saw a tweet somewhere. I'm not sure of the, the, the, the accuracy of the number, but saying if 70% of black people don't have student loan debt, is that really helpful? Um, right now in this moment, and again, I say it like a health debt, um, student loan debt is compounded, um, and is layered for multiple families. I have loan debt. My mother has loan debt. My brother has loan debt. I'm the only one with a college degree, you know, so, right, right. And so we have to look at the left-hand and look at the right hand, um, because folks don't live single policy lives. We don't live in policy bubbles. And so I'll say that if you don't, we can't go as far. Um, the big picture overall is still remains affordability. Um, forgiveness, can't be the only thing, uh, because we'll be right here in this same position, 15 from now, um, because we have a whole generation of not just traditional age students, but all the rest of us don't they have to continue to engage higher ed. And how are we gonna, uh, pay for that?

Daphné Vanessa (00:41:50): Yeah. Oh, well said, well said, um, we really went in on the, this issue. It is, it is. Um, and so reforming repayment, right? To better support borrowers of color. What are some, how are we, how are we reforming repayment as an example?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:42:12): Yeah, we can't, um, overlook that many of us are already in the midst of repaying that we are in income driven repayment plans, but seeing that the link was the end of fault rates by race. We know that it's a signal of a systemic flaw. And with those default rates, they also fuel deficit narratives and shortsighted solutions. Um, and I'll give an example. I remember multiple times, but there was one time I went to panel discussion that was facilitated by a well-known or an editor of a well-known media stores. And it was, we had actually two or three members of our working group were on that panel. And talking about if a student loans are crisis, remember like feeling so in visible as if I add 17, not knowing how to, you know, go through my process or having the information that I had to leave my family through the process were, you know, irresponsible or, um, ignorant or, um, that if the weight of the loan debt that I had, um, was somehow didn't impact me, then it wasn't a crisis for all of us to consider.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:43:53): And I just think that the, the tools and structures that we have, um, or have formulated to help folks repay their debt, if those tools aren't working, then those tools need to be improved. We need to think about how race is playing a role. You know, if there are options for forbearance and default, how often are borrowers of color tapping those resources and is that exploding the interest, and that's why folks can pay it down. Um, something that we don't address are, uh, private loans and other ways that, uh, students and families tap in, uh, to payday loans or credit cards that, you know, the federal government really has little to say on, on how if a student has to have gone that route to cover the full cost of college.

Daphné Vanessa (00:44:50): All right. And so let's look at the final piece, which is ensuring a racially, just economic recovery, heavy words,

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:44:59): Important. What do you know, as you know, I, uh, I appreciate, uh, the new administration and their consistency in updating us on all the things that are happening. Um, and the parent back to them thinking about economic recovery and racial equity, um, we can do that together in harnessing philanthropy and policy and bringing folks to the table, but we all have to be talking about the same thing at the same time. And I think I realized this, um, example enough if we know that recovery so far has been slow for black and Latino people, people without a college degree than it has been for white workers or workers with a college degree that we have to, um, be honest about what recovery looks like over the next two, three, five, 10 years. Um, and what then policies are necessary just today. Folks are anticipating the COVID relief, um, act. And there's so much in there that's intended to help. And again, broadly thinking about what labor laws may look like. What's civil rights and justice policy may be looking like, um, over the next few years that our higher ed policies are also aligned with the need. And there's a disparate burden of student loan dads need the full amount of debt and the burden that it has disparately has on black, Latino, and native families or enrollment participation in.

Daphné Vanessa (00:47:08): Yeah. And it's going to take partnership from a lot of different groups, right. It's not just going to be the government, but it's, I think it's going to take partnership from more than the government. Absolutely. Yeah. We're on that page. So this has been incredibly informative. I think I'm looking for some outcomes that what can our audience to be involved with this process? You mentioned a working group, is that working group open to various experts. Are you only looking for a certain segment of people? How can people get involved with the work that you're doing?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:47:41): That's a really great idea. You've given me some things to, to bring to the work and say, Hey, maybe we should do this. We're really excited about your excitement. And we reaching out, um, to, to talk with us and engage with us. Um, the working group is closed. We engage with those folks over the last year and a half. Um, and they each produced, um, or contributed to the report and it's essays. Um, I'll tell you the same thing. I tell my friends who have student loan that, and they're like, what do I do again? No, your dad's story. Tell it to yourself, tell it better. Um, there are different ways to advocate and educate folks from your, uh, community and from others communities. Um, in, in, I think telling your debt story and connecting it to research, um, at least for me has made me be able to see my choices and how, uh, the system overall impacted those choices.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:48:55): Right. I own my decisions, but I also help folks understand taking out a student loan was not like, should I do it or not? My family's broke, not the truth for me. And I, again, I can, I'm happy to be in debate in conversation with folks, but what has been missing a lot in those conversations is, is the undertone that I somehow, as a black student, um, didn't know better. Or if I had known about the interest rates, I would have made different decisions and that's just not economic theory. Right. But very little, little bit of theory that I learned is that people make, um, logical decisions for themselves and their families based on the resources and information they have at their disposal. You know, it's rare that people are going to make a logical decisions. And so if frankly, a, um, research and media that are largely encompassed by white middle-class folks, that's gonna different, gonna give a different spin, um, and a different point of view to the general public about what's happening. And we're just saying there's a whole lot of stuff that's been happening for of color at different institutional types. And it's been happening for quite a while.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:50:32): Absolutely. And I think, um, financial literacy is a subject that comes to mind. I know I saw that in the report as well. Um, you know, having exposure and maybe I'm just combining some recent thoughts that we've had from some interviews that we've done recently as well. Uh, one where we, we interviewed, uh, Mina WAMO, who's the co the founder of student dream and their mission is to close the, the black wealth gap. And then we're speaking about exposure to financial literacy. And what does investing look like? And, um, it just really sparked me there because there's this, like, when you said, like, there is no question of whether or not I'm taking on a student loan, you're absolutely correct. It's like, no, I, it was like, I was trained from day one. It was like, sports are cool, but school is first. And then college is the, is the thing that's where you're going.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:51:24): That's what's going to happen. You know, we don't care how it happens. It's going to happen now. It's good because that means that, you know, you grew up with that, that, that drive to say like, Hey, that's what I have to go. But, uh, I think that combined with financial literacy that combined with exposure or mentorship as you're making those financial decisions, right. That's why it's so important. What we're doing here on the sort of own podcast with Lumina foundation is doing with you in the working group. Right. Because we're trying to, and I know you probably do this too a lot with your family members that are looking to go to school, right. It's you end up becoming the de facto college person. Right. You become, you become that representative. Is that at least that's been my experience. Has that been your experience at all?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:52:05): I mean, I got a whole PhD in it, so yeah. Yeah. I worked on campuses. Like my experience drew me back into the sector and doing it professionally, and I do take it as a responsibility to help those around me who have access, have power, or have a platform, have privilege to understand where they may be making missteps and calling it racial equity, you know? Um, you're absolutely right. And even for all of the de facto higher ed experts out there, cause you had to do it first. It's okay to say, you know, I had no idea what I was doing in 2002. I had no idea what I was doing, but my lack of information does not negate that there is a system in, in play that made it necessary for me to have to take out the loans. I wouldn't have. I think most people, you know, okay, this is my opinion.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:53:19): I don't want it to be conflated in the research and narratives in the report. But it's my lived experience that if, um, if I were receiving or if other women of color were receiving the return on the investment can pay down the insurance then alone, you know, you wouldn't have this issue, but there's been 20, 30 years of an issue that has blown up. And now we're faced with an unforeseeable economic crisis that is impacting working class people, that folks with educational privilege, um, or any other types of privileges, uh, can get into the nitty gritty and, and understand this, this point of view. I have nightmares thinking about, are we going to toss a whole generation of black, Latino, and native middle-class or lower middle-class people off a cliff because the general public won't understand that, um, we're in it together.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:54:40): Well said no. Well said, well said it's absolutely true. I mean, think about, you know, you graduate in Oh eight Oh nine or around that time. And then now you're hit with the COVID as well. I mean, these are, these are, are what I consider if you, you know, when we, when we look 30, 40, 50 years down the road and somebody else is looking at charts of what happened to wealth in certain communities, in my perspective, unless we do something together, you're going to see a dip. You know, you're going to see a visible dip in the ability to recover from having two successive recessions, essentially in a, in a less than 15 year period. And we don't have the safety nets, right. That you see in other communities. Um, and like we said, and you said this in the beginning and, and, and, um, you know, feel free to let me know to get off my soap box here, but talking about systemic issues in terms of wealth generation and passing wealth on from one generation to the next, if your, if your grandparents and parents and, and, and those before them, weren't able to build wealth because of intentional and unintentional consequences.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:55:54): And then they can't, you know, when they pass away, pass on some sort of gift to the next generation, then where, you know, who do you turn to for, for assistance? Like, we're, I'm not saying that it was all someone who defaults on their loans. I get it. We all signed on the dotted line. But I think the, I think I'm speaking to those out there that may have an argument against what we're seeing here. When the suggestion is there has to be a communal effort to address this issue. Because if you, if you attempt to say that a, that student loans may not be a crisis, it's the second largest debt burden carried by Americans outside of mortgages for homes. If that doesn't bring some sort of awareness or I guess, weight to the issue that I literally don't know what else could. And it's interesting to see that the pandemic, which has impacted everyone, every single person is really bringing people to the table that otherwise, like you said, two or three years ago were scoffing at ideas that are now reasonable, because maybe because they're being impacted as

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:56:59): Well, listen, we can end right there or we can go for another hour. Sorry. I just had to make sure that I got out there and I'm holding back because we can go on for another hour, but I am so excited that it's starting to spark. It seems that it's sparking and helping us to have the hard conversations, because the fundamental issue with the bootstrap argument is that we weren't all given boots. Um, it's, it's the assumption that we start off with the same level of resources and wealth, and that to have debt is somehow some type of personal failure when it is a, you know, a symptom of a larger, larger issue, specifically racism in housing policy racism in all types of, you know, I, I lecture in history of higher ed and I talk about the GI bill and how it was great for white veterans, but money follows money, private money, public money, and institutions could expand because white GIS were attending, um, and brought their benefits with them.

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:58:25): But that wasn't the case for black GIS, who because of, um, legal segregation, you know, only had access to institutions that would accept them. And if a state is not willing unwilling to pour infrastructure capacity dollars into black college, then that black college can expand as quickly as its counterpart in order to take in more black bets. It's that level of that's how racism functions and creates disparate outcomes that we then have to ask the hard question, if we are serious about racial equity and addressing racial inequities in this country, what should the public then do now? I'll leave it at that. So that was heavy. It was,

Daphné Vanessa (00:59:22): But so informative, right? I think that's the type of conversation that we need to have. We gave parting words of advice to the audience. We've covered the report. We've covered our personal experiences, any last words for the audience before we go

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (00:59:39): Read the report, Garrett, share with, uh, your local financial aid advisor with your college counselor, share with your family and helping them to understand if you're a student and you got to fill out the FASFA and take out loans every year and sell them. That is not just me share it with folks who don't agree with the student loan thing and things that everyone, um, is on their own. And, you know, it's just an opportunity to, uh, get into the nitty gritty about racial equity and how it shows up

Daphné Vanessa (01:00:21): Nice and tell our audience how they can get in contact with you if they want to reach out to you, how do they find out what you're up to?

Dr. Katherine Wheatle (01:00:29): Oh, that's fine. So, uh, my Twitter handle is at the R K [inaudible] H E T L E. My last name is like Phyllis weekly, but without the Y you can find me@luminafoundation.org. We have so much there about who we are, who we partner with. And I welcome folks to take a look at our, um, racial equity work there too.

Daphné Vanessa (01:01:04): Thank you guys for more information about the student loan podcast, visit the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 21. See you soon.

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