Top Political Issues Students of Color Care About

The 2022 Midterm Elections will have a direct impact on students of color. Learn about the top political issues students of color care about.

portrait of Stephanie Szitanyi, Ph.D.
by Stephanie Szitanyi, Ph.D.

Published on April 4, 2022

Reviewed by Pamela “Safisha Nzingha” Hill, Ph.D.

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Top Political Issues Students of Color Care About


With less than eight months to go, people are turning their eyes to the 2022 midterm elections.

The races in both the House and the Senate will determine whether Democrats keep control of Congress — an important outcome for the political issues college students face in their day-to-day lives.

While certain political issues are important to all college students, some will disproportionately impact students of color.

However, it is important to remember that students of color are not a monolith. They have differing interests. According to Heather James, assistant professor of social sciences, human services, and criminal justice at Borough Manhattan Community College - CUNY, "students of color have wide-ranging political concerns."

Below, we consider the top political issues students of color care about leading up to the 2022 midterm elections — from tuition affordability to the future of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuition Costs and Student Debt

A staggering 44 million Americans owe approximately $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Most students take out student loans at some point to help pay for their education.

The burden of carrying and paying for these loans often impacts students' financial security, both during and after completing their education. This may limit their ability to buy homes, start families, launch businesses, and save for retirement.

Student loan debt disproportionately affects Black students — Black female students in particular. When looking at loan repayment data, the median Black student borrower still needs to pay back 95% of their original loan 20 years after taking out the loan. In comparison, the median white borrower has already paid off 94% of the original loan by that point.

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are calling on politicians to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower to help "secure financial stability" for more students of color. Those running for office in the midterms will likely need to speak to this issue.

Affordable Healthcare

Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree on affordable healthcare.

With both the House and the Senate up for grabs in the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans are expected to continue challenging the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare") on the campaign trail.

Data shows that, since the passage of Obamacare in 2010, access to affordable healthcare for young people has increased. Medicaid expansion has also led to a sizable increase in healthcare coverage for college students — the percentage of uninsured college students dropped by 50% between 2010 and 2018.

Obamacare also helped narrow the coverage gap for many students of color. In 2010, roughly 69%, 76%, and 84% of Hispanic, Black, and white college students had healthcare coverage. In 2018, those numbers increased to roughly 85%, 88%, and 92%, respectively, showing a significantly smaller gap.

Economy

Having faced disproportionate food and housing insecurity during the height of the pandemic, college students of color will likely pay close attention to midterm candidates' stance on the economy.

Many students saw their tuition bills creep up after the COVID-19 pandemic sent many of their institutions into a fiscal crisis. Students are also feeling the rise in overall living costs brought on by historic inflation levels not seen since 1982.

Increased costs for necessities have been exacerbated by drastic cuts many universities made to on-campus student employment, forcing students to venture elsewhere to make money. Students are noting a general economic decline in their local environments off campus, too. According to James, "for colleges located in an urban setting, even small rises in crime and homelessness can be noticeable" to students.

And while many colleges and universities have returned to in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year, increased fuel costs resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine may complicate things for college students further. Commuter students who live off campus and rely on various transportation modes to access school may feel additional monetary strain to attend classes.

Public Health

Students are also facing the daunting reality of a new COVID-19 variant — the omicron ba.2 subvariant — as we move closer to the 2022 midterm elections.

While many colleges and universities across the country require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, not all do.

Students will likely want to know what politicians are willing to do to keep new variants at bay. As new variants of the virus continue to emerge, students may be reminded of the major academic, lifestyle, and mental health disruptions they experienced during the first wave of the pandemic.

For many students of color, the impact of the pandemic has been even more tangible. During the 2020-21 academic year, universities across the board experienced sharp decreases in enrollment among their male students, particularly those identifying as students of color. Public colleges in particular also saw decreased enrollment among Native American men and women and Latino students.

Racial Justice

Two years after the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and its related protests gained widespread support across the nation, racial justice remains an important political issue for students of color.

It also remains a main point of contention in the midterm elections. As part of the question of where the country stands on racial justice, culture wars have put critical race theory (CRT) at the center of the issue.

CRT, which involves the advanced study of how systemic racism perpetuates discrimination against and disadvantages for certain groups, is now hotly contested across the education landscape. In reality, these attacks are largely disingenuous because very few colleges courses — and virtually no primary or secondary courses — focus on critical race theory.

Nonetheless, ensuring that colleges and universities offer college courses that focus on ethnic studies, diversity, and the importance of racial justice is beneficial for all college students. James argues that these classes can open up a dialogue for addressing social tensions among student populations. They suggest that "students of color are certainly more aware of the impact of racial injustice in our society [and] they push white students to be more aware of these inequities as well." This can happen both inside and outside of the classroom.

Conclusion

College students have a lot at stake in the upcoming midterm elections. For students of color who are disproportionately impacted by policies related to the economy, student loan debt, and new COVID-19 variant surges, the decisions and opinions of lawmakers may mean the difference between completing their education or not. Students should be sure to make their voices heard by getting engaged politically and voting in upcoming state and local elections.


Feature Image: Brothers91 / E+ / Getty Images

College voters face a unique set of challenges. Learn more about how to overcome those challenges and cast your vote in 2022. Some states make registering to vote very tricky for college students away from home. Experts say blocking student votes can greatly impact election results.