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Student Loan Law Initiative Research Grant Program

The SLLI research program is an opportunity to explore the spillover effects of student debt on the economy and society by offering a closer look at the consequences of rising debt for those hardest hit by this crisis—in particular, borrowers of color and their communities. By filling gaps in data that impede policymaking, SLLI scholarship offers empirical evidence for those seeking to help borrowers struggling under the weight of rising and unprecedented student debt.

2020 SLLI Research Grant Awardees

Raphaël Charron-Chénier, Assistant Professor of Sociology and of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University will use SLLI’s proprietary datasets to explore inequities in the quality of credit extended to student loan borrowers of color and document how those disparate lending patterns lead to disparate outcomes. Professor Charron-Chénier’s extensive work on racial disparities in the student loan market have made him a foremost expert on predatory inclusion—the idea that marginalized borrowers and borrowers of color are offered particular credit products under subpar conditions that would not be offered to other communities. Professor Charron-Chénier’s work will provide policy makers with critical insights to help address systemic disparities in the notoriously opaque student loan market.

Charlie Eaton and Laura Hamilton, Professors of Sociology at the University of California, Merced, along with Adam Goldstein and Frederick Wherry, Professors of Sociology at Princeton University, will engage in several distinct projects using SLLI’s proprietary historical FFELP loan data, including examining the role of for-profit school ownership structures in borrower outcomes and studying the effectiveness of state solutions to predatory for-profit institutions, such as state grant eligibility, consumer disclosures, recruitment incentive bans, and enforcement actions. Moreover, the professors will use SLLI’s University of California Consumer Credit Panel to explore the role of the secondary student loan refinance market in exacerbating racial and social class inequalities. As for-profit institutions continue to saddle borrowers with tens of thousands of dollars in loans that they will struggle to repay, this research will reveal the most effective policy interventions that state and federal policymakers and regulators can use to increase oversight and accountability of these companies. 

Lesley Turner, an Associate Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University, and Rajeev Darolia, Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Kentucky will use SLLI datasets in conjunction with other data to explore the long-term impact of income-driven repayment (IDR) on borrowers’ financial lives. Their research will explore the long-term benefits that this critical protection provides borrowers across their financial lives and broader decision making, including the impact of IDR on borrowers’ future earnings, educational investments and household formation. To date, policymakers have lacked the insight needed to craft fulsome solutions to address the domino effect of student debt. This research will help to complete the puzzle, revealing if and how IDR can be used to mitigate the longer-term ramifications of student debt.

Georgetown University Law Center Professors Brian Galle, Adam Levitin, and John Brooks will conduct research on how borrowers access critical repayment protections such as income-driven repayment (IDR). Their research will explore how intrinsic borrower data points—such as demographic background or assigned student loan servicer—impact enrollment in repayment plans, the cost that borrowers ultimately pay for their loans, and how likely borrowers are to fall into delinquency or default. The scholars will then evaluate the role of tax policy in improving broadscale borrower outcomes. This groundbreaking research will provide policymakers a roadmap for integrating essential repayment protections to provide better, more accessible protections for student loan borrowers.  

Daniel Collier, a Research Fellow for The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, Dan Fitzpatrick, a Research and Assessment specialist for the LSA Opportunity Hub at the University of Michigan, and Christopher Marsicano is an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Higher Education at Davidson College will use SLLI’s proprietary datasets to expand upon prior research into income-driven repayment. Specifically, they will examine the traits of students likely to participate in IDR, taking into account recent policy reforms, and examine what financial behaviors and situations IDR enrollment influences in turn. As policymakers and regulators work to address the disconnect between the protections offered under federal law and the reality in borrower outcomes, this research will shed new light on how efforts can better assist America’s most vulnerable borrowers. 

Jeremy Burke and Juan Saavedra, economists at the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research, and Lesley Turner an Associate Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University will examine the effect of student loans on intergenerational wealth by linking SLLI datasets with California state tax records and housing data from Zillow. The grantees will examine how shocks to home values stemming from the Great Recession impacted student loan debt and subsequent housing wealth in California, offering new insight into the link between family wealth, student loan utilization, and lifetime financial outcomes for borrowers. As policymakers work to address systemic racial disparities in America’s financial markets, this work will provide unprecedented insight into the key role student debt plays in perpetuating these disparities across generations.   

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