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Student Loan Debt Among Law Students: Perceptions, Influences, and Effects. Heather DiAngelis Sociology of Education July 30, 2012. Topic Statement.

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student loan debt among law students perceptions influences and effects

Student Loan Debt Among Law Students: Perceptions, Influences, and Effects

Heather DiAngelis

Sociology of Education

July 30, 2012

topic statement
Topic Statement

I am studying student loan debt among law students and graduates to find out how they perceive this debt and how they are influenced and affected by it, in order to help my reader understand financial issues that are prevalent among law students and graduates and how law schools can help alleviate misconceptions and harsh consequences of law student debt.


What are law students’ perceptions of their own student loan debt and the normalcy of student loan debt?

What factors influence law students’ amounts of student loan debt, and how do these students perceive these influences?

What are the effects and consequences of student loan debt? Does this conflict with students’ perceptions of the effects and consequences?

  • To further understand current perceptions about the economic situations of law students and recent alumni
  • To make policy suggestions that have the potential to influence the following:
    • How law students understand their debt
    • How law students prepare for their futures after graduation
    • How law schools provide financial information to their students
  • Mixed Methods Action Research
    • Qualitative research through surveys and open-ended interviews
    • Quantitative research through surveys and data
data sources
Data Sources

Survey of second- and third-year law students and recent alumni

Open-ended interviews with select second- and third-year law students and recent alumni

Open-ended interviews with staff members of the William and Mary Law School’s Office of Career Services

Survey results and annual reports from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement

Financial aid data from the National Center for Education Statistics

Survey results and statistics from the National Association for Law Placement and the American Bar Association

context from literature
Context from Literature

New faculty members often owe more in loan debt than they make in a year, which is demoralizing on a personal level, discourages faculty members from encouraging undergraduates to major in their field, and makes graduate studies look less appealing to minorities and members of the working class (Guerra, 2008).

Low-income students might find themselves with a decreased societal influence after graduation because student loans distribute cultural capital unevenly across social classes (Trent, Lee, & Owens-Nicholson, 2006).

context from literature1
Context from Literature

The predicted probability of degree attainment increases with loan amount for high-income and white students, but decreases with loan amount for low- and middle-income students and for Asian, Latino, and black students (Kim, 2007).

Ten years after implementing its no-loan policy, Princeton University has seen an increase in low-income and minority students and all students have a much greater percentage of tuition covered by grants and scholarships (Tilghman, 2007).

context from literature2
Context from Literature

A study conducted at a Midwestern state university found that the greater the confidence among undergraduate business students in managing debt load and securing employment after graduation, the higher the salary expectations (Kuzma, Thiewes, & Kuzma, 2010).

Several law schools are currently under investigation for providing misleading (and possibly fraudulent) data concerning employment prospects after graduation (Mangan, 2011).

  • Perceptions:
    • Views of debt
    • Views of the higher education system
    • College affordability
    • Normalcy
  • Influences:
    • Getting into debt
    • Family/friend support
  • Effects:
    • Repayment
    • Confidence
    • Degree attainment
    • Cultural capital gap
  • Cultural Capital (Bourdieu)
    • Distribution across social classes
    • Income gap
    • Opportunity gap
    • Power in society
  • Tolerance and Willingness
    • Willingness to borrow
    • Tolerance for debt amounts
  • Race and SES
    • As variables in loan amounts
    • As variables in willingness and tolerance
next steps
Next Steps

Examine more literature concerning student loan debt in general.

Take a better look at non-scholarly literature (i.e., newspaper articles, blogs, and websites) to get a better understanding of law students’ debt.

Devise a strategy for surveying and interviewing students and recent alumni.


Guerra, L. (Feb. 2008). Graduating a debtor nation: Shameless confessions of a dissenting citizen. History Teacher, 41(2), 207–211.

Kim, D. (Spring 2007). The effect of loans on students’ degree attainment: Differences by student and institutional characteristics. Harvard Educational Review, 77(1), 64–100.

Kuzma, A. T., Thiewes, H. F., & Kuzma, J. R. (April 2010). An examination of business students’ student loan debt and total debt. American Journal of Business Education, 3(4), 71–77.

Mangan, K. (Oct. 2011). Law schools on the defensive over job-placement data. Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(9), A16.

Tilghman, S. (Winter 2007). Expanding equal opportunity: The Princeton experience with financial aid. Harvard Educational Review, 77(4), 435–441.

Trent, W. T., Lee, H. S., & Owens-Nicholson, D. (Aug. 2006). Perceptions of financial aid among students of color: Examining the role(s) of self-concept, locus of control, and expectations. American Behavioral Scientist, 49(12), 1739–1759.