Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education

First Advisor's Name

Daniel Saunders

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Benjamin Baez

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

James Burns

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Rebekah Schulze

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


Debt, Non-Financial Debt, Student Debt, Time, Obligation, Foreclosure, Opportunity

Date of Defense



While debt is most commonly associated with financial liability, scholars have also started to consider other, non-financial ways debt can manifest. Financial debts require repayment in dollars, while non-financial debts might require ‘repayment’ not in money, but in feeling, conduct, attitude, or sense of obligation, for example. When more than the association of money is considered, it is possible to contemplate the other ways that debt, both financial and non-financial, might work to affect individual decision making across multiple temporalities. Much has been written about the foreclosing aspects of debt theoretically, but little empirical research has been conducted in this area. This study highlights how low-income students in a promise program understand and make meaning of their present and future decision making in relation to perceptions of their own debt. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirteen low-income college students who qualified for a need-based promise program. Transcripts of each interview were analyzed to identify themes relevant to each research question. The results of this study suggest that the participants in this sample experienced not only financial debts with attending college, but non-financial debts as well. Specifically, students discussed their experiences navigating non-financial emotional, social, and racial/ethnic debts, among others, as they “paid” for the opportunity to attend college. Additionally, many of the students in this sample experienced the foreclosing aspects of these non-financial debts as they navigated the college decision making process including where they felt they could attend and what major to pursue. These non-financial debts were not only foreclosing. Many of the students expressed the opportunities they were able to pursue as a result of the commitments and non-financial debts they felt they “owed” their families, highlighting the both the foreclosing and opportunity creating nature of these non-financial debts.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.



Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).