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Leaders in Philanthropy and Education discuss Postsecondary Success, Debt, and Philanthropy’s Role

June 21, 2017

On June 20, leaders in philanthropy and education convened in New York City for a discussion on Postsecondary Success, Debt, and Philanthropy’s Role. Coinciding with the release of a new set of reports from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and TIAA Institute, the event featured several speakers who shared their experience in student loans and accessibility in higher education.

Sandy Baum, Higher Education Economist and Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, started the dialogue by presenting key findings from her authored report “Achieving Success in Postsecondary Education: The Facts About Student Debt.” Although she does address a ‘student loan crisis,’ her research points to a different conclusion than previous coverage may suggest.  While anecdotal evidence may lead one to believe that the average student borrower is drowning in large amounts of debt, her findings contained in the report suggest that that over two-thirds of borrowers owe less than $25,000. The borrowers who tend to struggle most with repaying loans are those who committed to relatively small loan amounts as well as students who are older, low-income, or people of color, while those with the highest amounts of debt – most of whom have graduate degrees – are also the most likely to repay their loans. “I hope this report helps you think of student debt not as a non-problem,” Dr. Baum concluded, “but as a different problem.”

The event also featured a panel discussion including several experts in the fields of philanthropy, education and finance, including Rick Calero, President and CEO of TIAA-FSB and Aspen Finance Leaders Fellow; Daniel Greenstein, Director of Education and Postsecondary Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gail Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College; and Zakiya Smith, Strategy Director for Finance and Federal Policy at the Lumina Foundation. Moderated by RPA Senior Philanthropic Advisor and Manager Amy Holmes, the dialogue focused on inclusion and accessibility for low-income and marginalized students. “Students are not a monolith,” Zakiya Smith emphasized, “For far too many students, the resources available do not fit their need.” Gail Mellow also highlighted the importance of including philanthropy in the dialogue on student success and education affordability “to really think deeply about these issues.”

The three reports produced in partnership with TIAA Institute examine the student debt landscape in the U.S. as well as trends and innovative approaches in private funding of higher education. The reports are now available for download.


Written by Melissa Blackerby of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors communications team.

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