Date of Conferral

2017

Degree

Ph.D.

School

Management

Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Prinster

Abstract

Higher education is a means to improve professional status and economic mobility; however, mounting college debt has become a hindrance to college graduates, primarily African Americans. A disproportionate number of these graduates incur significant debt while attending college. The purpose of this descriptive phenomenological study was to understand the lived experiences of African American college graduates who were managing debt incurred to pay for their education. Human capital theory and critical race theory provided the conceptual framework. Two research questions motivated this study: How do African American college graduates living in the state of Georgia manage their college debt? What role does college debt play in the career and financial choices of African American college graduates who reside in the state of Georgia? Data collection included semistructured interviews with 20 participants. Data analysis was hand coded to identify 3 themes: pursuit of financial independence, education would improve participants' financial position, and college debt is a burden. A college education has been viewed as the way to improve socioeconomic standing, however, the cost of this education can result in student loan debt that burdens graduates' ability to acquire financial growth, thereby reducing the effect of achieving a college education. Recommendations consisted of two potential areas of improvement: mandatory financial aid counseling for students before high school graduation, and an expansion of the exit interview process for prospective graduates from colleges and universities. Results may contribute to positive social change by enhanced decision-making among college students and their families before graduation, and to improved financial counseling techniques, research methods, and debt decision capabilities.