Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Politics and International Relations

Reader 1

Nancy Neiman

Reader 2

Andrew Haxby

Rights Information

2021 Lillian A Mundell


As part of his Great Society and anti-poverty programs, President Johnson signed the Higher Education Act into law in 1965. In response to rising poverty and geopolitical threats from the Soviet Union, this legislation intended to strengthen the educational resources of colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students. As of September 2021, student loan debt in the United States totals $1.73 trillion and grows six times faster than the economy. The current state of student debt demonstrates that while the Higher Education Act did increase access to postsecondary education, that access has not conferred the intended economic benefits of higher education. My research addresses what went wrong. Why did the HEA not fulfill the promise of helping students accumulate wealth, and instead lead to overindebtedness for so many, especially students of color? I argue that the federal policy’s dependency on private institutions like for-profit schools and banks, debt financing methodology vis-a-vis harsh bankruptcy codes, and the presumed “colorblindness” of the policy are key reasons why the HEA has failed to deliver the hoped-for benefits of higher education to all students.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.