Publication Date

Fall 2017

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Kristin Wilson (Director), Dr. Kimberlee Everson and Dr. Brian Meredith

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


The current unprecedented level of college student debt in the United States at over $1.4 trillion (Federal Reserve, 2017) is of major concern for all who desire to improve higher education, income and social inequality, and the general welfare of society. This study’s purpose is both theoretical and empirical: first, to develop and propose the Generalized Sustainable Capability Framework (GSCF) as a conceptual model to analyze human development; and second, to test four specific hypotheses. The hypotheses were: 1) Students with lower test scores will incur higher levels of debt; 2) Minority students will incur higher levels of debt; 3) Students with lower family income will incur higher levels of debt; and 4) Students whose parents have lower levels of education will incur higher levels of debt. The population was students who graduated recently from a southern regional university and those who are presently attending the institution. The sample comprised 339 students who graduated in 2016 from the university. Three models were structured to test the hypotheses using hierarchical regression. The dependent variable, student debt amount (SDA) was the same for the three models, and Model 3, with the independent variables age, gender, GPA, race, family income, and mothers’ education level, was determined the most appropriate. Only the first hypothesis was statistically supported by the results of the regression. The lack of statistical support may be due to the fact that the graduates of the southern regional university have lower average debt compared to the national average, possibly due to its offerings of scholarships and grants. This implies that policy supporting student capabilities mitigate the potential negative effects of student debt as the GSCF postulates.


Higher Education