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Media Press Releases New Research Finds Majority-Black Neighborhoods in the Center of Atlanta’s Growing Student Debt Crisis

New Research Finds Majority-Black Neighborhoods in the Center of Atlanta’s Growing Student Debt Crisis

As Millions Await Decisions on Political Lawsuits and Efforts in Congress Threatening the Fate of Debt Relief, Student Borrower Protection Center Launches “Student Debt in the South” Research Series

April 13, 2023 | WASHINGTON, D.C. — Student Borrower Protection Center published new research today offering the first in-depth look at how student debt burdens in majority-Black neighborhoods across Atlanta have grown faster than burdens in other neighborhoods throughout the city. The findings underscore the importance, particularly for Black borrowers, of debt relief promised by President Biden and similar efforts to extend the pause on student loan payments.

A copy of today’s report, Student Debt in the South: Atlanta, is available here:

A recorded video of our virtual press conference is available here:

A copy of our Georgia: Student Debt by the Numbers fact sheet is available here:

“Our nation’s shameful and persistent racial wealth gap means that students of color, particularly Black borrowers, are more likely to have student debt, borrow in higher quantities, and face more struggles in repayment, as evidenced across metropolitan Atlanta,” said Kat Welbeck, Advocacy Director and Civil Rights Counsel at SBPC. “Politically-motivated efforts to block President Biden’s debt relief plan, including through the Congressional Review Act, would further entrench the racial wealth gap, denying thousands of Atlantans, and millions more Americans, life-changing relief.”

This publication is part of a new research series, Student Debt in the South, which aims to study the disparate effects of student debt in metropolitan areas and rural communities across the southern United States. Research for this report was conducted in partnership with the University of California’s Student Loan Law Initiative using data on Atlanta households’ credit reports.

“I owe the federal government $30,000, just because I wanted to get an education,” says Maggie Bell, Lead Organizer for New Georgia Project’s Cancel Loans for Education and Reparations (C.L.E.A.R) Campaign. “I’m a proud graduate of Albany State University, an HBCU in Albany, GA, but now, I can barely fathom how I’m going to live my life the way I dreamed and planned for. How will I buy a home, have kids, or save for retirement, when all I can see is the debt that I owe? That’s why we are organizing young Black folks in Georgia to demand the full cancellation of our student debt—so we can live the dream we were told was achievable through higher education.”

“More than 1 million Georgia borrowers and working people would benefit from meaningful student debt relief,” said Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock. “This new report makes plain what we have long known: student debt relief would significantly lift Georgians’ economic burdens, especially Black and brown Georgians. Student debt relief will help keep our economy growing strong for all Georgians, which is why I will keep doing all I can to enact substantive debt relief plan and continue pushing to prevent future borrowers from carrying that same burden by making higher education more affordable.”

“My constituents have shared horror stories of student loan debt including selling their home to pay bills, being unable to secure credit to start a business, or living with the never-ending stress of massive payments,” said Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05), a member of the Financial Services Committee and the HBCU Caucus. “Graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities like me are even more painfully aware of this. Because HBCUs were underfunded from their start, they have smaller endowments and smaller financial aid packages, resulting in more student loan debt for their students. Canceling student loan debt is a necessity and will help ensure that everyone can share in the promise of America.”

Key report findings include:

  • Majority-Black Atlanta neighborhoods have seen disproportionate growth in student debt burdens. 
  • The pause on student loan payments brought borrower distress to historic lows, particularly in majority-Black Atlanta neighborhoods where distress fell to nearly 1/10th of pre-pandemic highs. 
  • Despite unprecedented short-term benefits from paused payments, borrowers in Atlanta’s majority black neighborhoods struggle with runway debts—borrowers whose balances have not declined year-over-year.

The report also finds that if fully implemented, President Biden’s new debt relief program will leave a substantial share of student loan borrowers in Atlanta debt-free and, in particular:

  • Borrowers in majority-Black neighborhoods will receive an outsized benefit from President Biden’s student loan debt relief program.
  • Borrowers in majority-Black neighborhoods will continue to hold 50 percent more debt than their peers in majority-white neighborhoods.

Further Reading

President Biden pledges to cancel student debt for tens of millions of people: 

A series of amicus curiae briefs filed with the Supreme Court in support of President Biden’s student debt relief program: 

200+ organization letter to President Biden urging extension of student loan payment pause: 

SLLI research demonstrating breadth of impact of payment pause: New Research Underscores How Federal Action Protected Student Loan Borrowers During COVID—and What’s at Stake as the Supreme Court Considers Cancellation


About Student Borrower Protection Center

The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.

Learn more at or follow SBPC on Twitter @theSBPC.

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