Date of Award

Fall 11-23-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Education


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Andrea Kayne

Second Advisor

Thomas Noel Jr.

Third Advisor

Melissa Bradford


The notable increase in student debt in recent years has made students concerned about the impact of such debt on their future lives. Higher education arguably remains one of the best life investments; however, the vehicle established to make higher education accessible may cause unforeseen harm to students. The literature has indicated that over one third of the individuals pursuing higher education take on student loans. However, limited qualitative research existed on the implications of student loans for student borrowers. Few researchers had addressed how students perceive the effects of their student loans and the student loan process. The implications of student loans on students’ present and future lives remain unknown. This qualitative phenomenological study occurred to understand student loan borrowing practices and their perceived effects on borrowers’ current and future lives. Semistructured interviews commenced with 10 undergraduate and graduate student borrowers from three U.S. universities. The participants shared their lived experiences and perceptions of the factors in their decisions to use student loans. They also shared the perceived value of using student loans as investment tools to enhance their human capital. Peer debriefing and member checks were means to preserve the integrity of the study. Findings suggested that student borrowers perceived student loans as a valuable tool for accessing higher education to enhance their human capital, and they could not envision funding their higher education pursuits without student loans. The findings may support future policy development, inspire creation of more higher education funding literature, and provide a more in-depth understanding of the various facets of student borrowing.