The Student Loan Law Initiative Announces Six New Research Grant Awards to Leading Experts for Developing Solutions to the Student Debt Crisis

SBPC and UCI Law Partnership is Building Foundational Research on Student Loan Debt in Order to Arm Advocates, Policymakers, and Legislators

August 3, 2020 | Washington, DC — Today, the Student Loan Law Initiative (SLLI), the nation’s first academic center focused solely on studying student debt and the law, is announcing six new research grant awards to support leading academics who will conduct research on the effects of student debt on consumers’ financial lives and their communities. The grants will support scholars across six projects with the goal of providing policymakers and advocates with critical information needed to tackle the student debt crisis. Research areas include, the effect of student debt on borrower’s financial lives, disparate lending patterns among marginalized communities, and policies for improving access to affordable repayment plans. The SLLI grants will go to more than a dozen leading experts from a wide range of fields including law, higher education, economics, and sociology. These are the first research grants awarded by the SLLI.

"We are thrilled to announce these world-class experts will be conducting groundbreaking research on student loans. This work will play a critical role in advancing understanding and informing efforts to address the student debt crisis," said SBPC Director Seth Frotman. "As borrowers turn to the courts, regulators, and lawmakers to protect and expand their rights, this research will be critical in putting a stop to student loan industry abuses and shedding light on the far-reaching effects of student debt."

"These grantees will make significant contributions to the foundation of rigorous research that the Student Loan Law Initiative is building," said UCI Law professor and SLLI Director Dalié Jiménez. "Understanding the effects of student loans can help policymakers and advocates address the unequal weight of this debt on communities and the policy levers that may alleviate this burden."

The Student Loan Law Initiative is a partnership between the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans, and the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law). The SLLI grants program is designed to support researchers who want to build a foundational body of knowledge around the impact of student loans on individuals, communities, and the national economy. Historically, there has been robust support for researchers to study mortgages, credit cards and other consumer financial products, however, foundational research on student loans is lacking.

SLLI Research Grants  

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.

Researchers funded through this program will access SLLI’s proprietary data sets, allowing them to gain unique insight into this national crisis. Below are descriptions of the new research projects awarded today.

Research Grant #1: Predatory Inclusion: Consequences of Lending and Borrowing in Financially Excluded Communities

SLLI is awarding a grant to Raphaël Charron-Chénier, Assistant Professor of Sociology and of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University. 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 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 work will provide policy makers with critical insights to help address systemic disparities in the notoriously opaque student loan market.

Research Grant #2: Understanding and Encouraging Enrollment in Income-Driven Repayment Programs

SLLI is awarding a grant to Brian Galle, Adam Levitin, and John Brooks, all professors of law at Georgetown University Law Center. These leading consumer and tax law scholars 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.

Research Grant #3: The Effects of Income-Driven Repayment on Borrowers’ Financial Health, Employment, and Graduate School Enrollment

SLLI is awarding a grant to Lesley Turner, Associate Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University, and Rajeev Darolia, Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Kentucky. Professors Turner and Darolia 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.

Research Grant #4: Student Debt and Housing Wealth

SLLI is awarding a grant to Lesley Turner, Jeremy Burke, and Juan Saavedra. Jeremy Burke and Juan Saavedra are both economists at the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research. Lesley Turner is an Associate Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University and was also awarded a separate SLLI grant for research on income-driven student loan repayment. Together, these scholars 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. 

Research Grant #5: Income-Driven Repayment Enrollment and Post-College Financial Behaviors and Outcomes

SLLI is awarding a grant to Daniel Collier, Dan Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Marsicano. Daniel Collier is currently a Research Fellow for The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College. Dan Fitzpatrick currently serves as a Research and Assessment specialist for the LSA Opportunity Hub at the University of Michigan. Christopher Marsicano is an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Higher Education at Davidson College in North Carolina. Together, the scholars 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.

Research Grant #6: Race, Class, and Student Debt as a System of Social Stratification

SLLI is awarding a grant to 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. The professors 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 datasets 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.

These six research projects are part of SLLI’s ongoing effort to arm policymakers, legislators, and advocates with the best information possible to find solutions to the student debt crisis. Upon publication, this research series will comprise the most advanced analysis on student loan borrower characteristics, repayment habits, and financial behavior to date.

About the Student Loan Law Initiative

The Student Loan Law Initiative is a partnership between the Student Borrower Protection Center and the University of California, Irvine School of Law to build a body of rigorous academic work around how to address the student loan crisis. SLLI fosters the highest quality academic research, provides grants for research, and builds the capacity of student loan experts to shape changes to this market. SLLI experts have testified before the U.S. Congress as well as the California State Assembly on student debt issues. In October 2019, SLLI convened student loan practitioners, advocate and leading legal experts for the first colloquium on student loan law, which laid the foundation for a February 2020 SLLI symposium, hosted in partnership with the UC Irvine Law Review. Scholarship presented at that symposium will be published in a dedicated volume of the UC Irvine Law Review in Fall 2020.

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