Reducing Inequities in Postsecondary Debt and Repayment through a Multi-Sector Research-Practice Partnership

Georgia State University and Achieve Atlanta will conduct and use research to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in how new college students finance their education in order to reduce long-term inequities in higher education attainment and reduce loan default.

This grant supports a collaboration between Georgia Policy Labs at Georgia State University and Achieve Atlanta, a nonprofit that helps Atlanta Public School students access, afford, and earn postsecondary credentials. The combination of increasing college tuition and decreasing state funding has pushed the burden of financing postsecondary education on students, creating a college access and completion problem for students experiencing economic disadvantage. Furthermore, an increasing number of students leave college with large student loan debt, further exacerbating racial economic disparities in the ability to repay debt. The partnership aims to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in how new college students finance their education to reduce long-term inequities in higher education attainment. First, the team will use both a regression discontinuity and difference-in-differences design leveraging data from Achieve Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools, University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia, and Equifax credit bureau to evaluate how the Achieve Atlanta scholarship and associated services impact the way students finance their education through loans, overdue student and non-student debt after college, loan default, and credit scores. Next, the team will conduct a randomized trial examining a financial counseling intervention targeting first-year Achieve Atlanta scholars and students who recently left Georgia State University. The intervention focuses on appropriate loan borrowing while in college to mitigate student debt burden and repayment options after college. Finally, qualitative participatory action research will yield findings on how students make financial decisions to pay for college, how Achieve Atlanta can improve their services, and the students’ plans for loan repayment. To support the goal of institutional change at the university, Georgia State University will create an Engaged Research Competition to promote engaged research for untenured faculty and Ph.D. students, which will provide time and support to build new research-practice partnerships. In addition, the team plans to discuss with the Provost the potential to elevate engaged research in promotion and tenure policies. On the practice side, the grant will increase the amount and scope of research that Achieve Atlanta can participate in and allow them to focus their work on effective strategies to reduce existing gaps by race and economic advantage. Finally Achieve Atlanta staff will participate in summer trainings on qualitative and quantitative research to build staff capacity to understand and use research.

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