The “Problem of Colored Lines” gallery is a collaboration between the Dignity + Debt Network and the VizE Lab and is intended to promote data visualization as a medium for depicting racial disparities in student borrowing and repayment, and for rendering data meaningful to wider publics. Taking inspiration from the charts and maps created by sociologist W.E.B Du Bois that depict wealth disparities between blacks and whites, we seek to visualize the color lines and the social complexities within urgent issue of student loan debt.

If Du Bois were working today on the urgent issue of student loan indebtedness, he would find that, in the phrase he used, “the problem of the color line” endures across the globe, and that other social cleavages help predict how debts are arranged and affect whether groups of people are allowed to carry it with dignity. Inspired by Du Bois, The Dignity and Debt Network and the VizE Lab at Princeton adopting the style of Du Bois in a growing series of charts that convey some of the contemporary research on how color-lines organize data on student loan debt. Taken together, the series also depict the wider webs of structures, meanings, and values that create the uneven circumstances with which college students and families take on educational debt, and the ability of graduates to repay them. And they chart how dignity, respect, and autonomy can guide meaningful policies and practices of financial and educational inclusion around the globe.

Click the images below to view our original visualizations of student loan debt data, inspired by the visual style of W.E.B. Du Bois:

Access to higher education
Racial disparities in average student loan debt
Student debt and the expanding racial wealth gap
Average student debt and defaults four years after graduation
Credit rating disparities in the United States
For-profit higher education and loans
Debt and self-confidence
Employer selectivity for college and ancestry

Compare and Re-Calculate Your Own Student Loan Debt

Compare your total student loans with the average amounts among several social groups in the US. Recalculate your student loan with changes you can make now. Learn how much you could save by refinancing or pay down your loan faster by paying a little more per month.

Contest: Visualizing Student Debt With Dignity

Visualizations render data meaningful for people around the world. They are able to reveal what might be either changed or strengthened through policy and individual action. Enter our contest to envision a meaningful future of financial autonomy and educational inclusion around the world. Submissions are due by September 19, 2020 and awards will be announced in October 2020.