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How do students with debt fare in community college?

April 28, 2017

Community college students who borrow up to $1,999 in student loans during their first two years of community college complete 17% fewer academic credits in that same time period than their peers who take out $2,000 to $3,999 in loans or do not take out any loans at all. This finding and more were published in a new study out today in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (a SAGE Publishing journal).

“Our results suggest that there may be impacts beyond just the burden of repayment—student debt itself may be contributing to fewer credits completed for some community college students,” wrote study authors Dominique J. Baker and William R. Doyle.

Looking at survey data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002–2012, Baker and Doyle examined the student loan debt and academic credit hour completion of students who first enrolled in community college in 2004. The researchers found that by 2006 (the first two years of enrollment):

  • 83% of students did not borrow any loans and completed an average of 30 of credit hours
  • 7% of students borrowed between $2,000 and $3,999 and completed an average of 30 credit hours
  • 6% of students borrowed between $1 and $1,999 and completed an average of 25 credit hours

According to the researchers, community college students who borrow a small amount are likely unable to afford community college prices. Unlike students who borrow higher amounts, though, they probably don’t borrow in anticipation of high future earnings, causing them to reevaluate their investment in higher education. For some students, this can result in decisions to take fewer credits or to leave college altogether.

“Borrowing isn’t necessarily bad for all students,” said Baker, “but borrowing for community college has rapidly increased and these results suggest that reliance on debt can be problematic for some of the college-goers who need the assistance most. For future student aid policies to be helpful, solutions should focus on ensuring that the need for excessive debt among community college students does not arise in the first place. This means focusing on rising tuition and inadequate financial aid, as opposed to simply banning community college students from receiving federal loans.”

# # #

This article is a part of the May, 2017 special issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, focused on student debt, federal loan repayment programs, and strategies for reducing repayment burdens. The special issue is guest edited by Laura W. Perna and Nicholas Hillman.

The article, “Impact of Community College Student Debt Levels on Credit Accumulation,” by Dominique J. Baker and William R. Doyle, in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science is free to access for a limited time. 

The special issue includes the following seven articles:


“Impact of Community College Student Debt Levels on Credit Accumulation”

Dominique J. Baker and William R. Doyle


“Learn Now, Pay Later: A History of Income-Contingent Student Loans in

the United States”

Robert Shireman


“Institutional Accountability: A Comparison of the Predictors of Student Loan Repayment and Default Rates”

Robert Kelchen and Amy Y. Li




“Conceptual and Empirical Issues for Alternative Student Loan Designs: The Significance of Loan Repayment Burdens for the United States” 

Bruce Chapman and Lorraine Dearden

“Student Loan Relief Programs: Implications for Borrowers and the Federal Government”


Wenhua Di and Kelly D. Edmiston


“Financial Benefits of Rapid Student Loan Repayment: An Analytic Framework Employing Two Decades of Data”   

Manuel S. González Canché


“Understanding Student Debt:  Implications For Federal Policy And Future Research”

Laura W. Perna, James Kvaal, and Roman Ruiz


# # #

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1,000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne. 

Since 1889, The American Academy of Political and Social Science has served as a forum for the free exchange of ideas among the well informed and intellectually curious. In this era of specialization, few scholarly periodicals cover the scope of societies and politics like The ANNALS. Each volume is guest edited by outstanding scholars and experts in the topics studied and presents more than 200 pages of timely, in-depth research on a significant topic of concern.


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