Academics

Summer Scholar Takes an Economic Survey of Student Debt

by Julia Snyder '19 (M.A.)

A woman in a grey sweater and glasses writes in a notebook

Through the Summer Scholars Program, dozens of students like Gallagher engage in funded research with mentorship from a faculty expert.

With the cost of higher education reaching record heights, student loan debt and repayment has become a national conversation.

Charles Gallagher ’19 has dedicated his summer to researching the relationship between student loans and the behavior of recent college graduates in the job market with the Summer Scholars Program. While there has been extensive research on students’ ability to pay back their loans, Gallagher has decided to focus on how the financial burden of loans affects the job market behavior of students once they’ve graduated.

“I’m wondering if people are making the best decisions when they’re getting their education, specifically how they behave in the job market,” says Gallagher, an economics major from Malvern, Pennsylvania. “One of my hypotheses is that people who are deeply in debt are going to take jobs sooner than people who are not, leading to less satisfaction at work.”

With the aid of the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 from the National Center for Education Statistics, Gallagher’s research is based on a survey of 2,400 of graduates who obtained their undergraduate degree within six years of graduating from high school.

“The real purpose of doing this research is to learn how to do research," he says. "The Summer Scholars Program bridges a gap between academic research and classes. There is no teacher to please or grade to grab: I have the time to pursue the paths I think are important and take chances on ideas that might be dead ends."

Gallagher’s credits his mentor, Laura Crispin Ph.D., associate professor of economics, as the largest influence on his decision to pursue this specific topic. “This is an important topic because, while many people have first-hand experience with college debt, there is very limited research about how taking on college debt may affect individuals in their early job prospects,” says Crispin.

Due to the pressing relevance of his topic, Gallagher plans to continue his research throughout the school year. Ideally, the relationships found through this project will enable Gallagher to present his findings at conferences and spark policy changes regarding repayment.

“All of the projects that I mentor have a particular policy focus, such that their findings can help to provide suggestive evidence that policymakers may use to improve outcomes of individuals,” says Crispin. “I think the Summer Scholars Program is an excellent way to encourage bright and motivated students to take on research outside of the classroom, learn new skills, and fully engage in the research process.”

Previously a music major, Gallagher sought out economics, because he feels that it provides more opportunities to apply his passion for problem-solving to help others. “Economists can do a lot of good if they know how to help people,” says Gallagher. “It’s the study of all choices, not just the choices you make with your money.”