The U.S. cannot reach the levels of educational attainment required for international competitiveness in a global, technologically driven economy without closing the considerable gaps in attainment that persist across groups. Gaps in attainment based on family income are among the most vexing. Compared with students from higher-income families, students from low-income families are less likely to enroll in college and, among those who do enroll, are less likely to graduate.
One particularly formidable barrier limiting higher-education attainment — especially for low-income students — is the need to rely on loans to pay college costs.
Students are increasingly using loans to pay for college. At all types of higher education institutions, both the shares of students who are borrowing and the amounts they are borrowing have been increasing. According to the College Board's Trends in Student Aid 2013, 57 percent of 2012 public four-year bachelor's degree recipients borrowed an average of $25,000, whereas 52 percent of 2001-02 graduates borrowed an average of $20,400 (constant 2012 dollars).