News media plays a crucial role in the student loan policy ecosystem by influencing how policymakers and the public understand the “problem” of student loans. Prior research emphasizes the causal impact of the media on the social construction of policy issues and the lack of knowledge about the authors of news articles. Theory also suggests that it is more difficult for new information to reach people in the core of a social network given their insular relationships. Therefore, we used social network analysis to investigate the college backgrounds for authors of student loan articles published in eight prominent newspapers between 2006 and 2021. We found evidence of a stark status hierarchy among the colleges attended (e.g., over half of the authors attended an Ivy Plus or Public Flagship institution). Our findings also identified a negative relationship between that hierarchy and an innovative practice, the use of racialized language in student loan news articles. We discuss how this status hierarchy might explain current patterns of racialized language in student loan policy and the implications of this relationship for the intersection of status and novel practices.
The media discourse on student loans plays a significant role in the way that policy actors conceptualize challenges and potential solutions related to student debt. This study examines the racialized language in student loan news articles published in eight major news outlets between 2006 and 2021. We found that 18% of articles use any racialized language, though use has accelerated since 2018. This increase appears to be driven by terms that denote groups of people instead of structural problems, with 8% of articles mentioning “Black” but less than 1% mentioning “racism.” These findings emphasize the importance of treating the media as a policy actor capable of shaping the salience of racialization in discussions about student loans.