Howard University
This is more than just about race; it's also about respect. (Photo courtesy of Howard University, Washington, DC by Nikolaus Fogle, 2010)

Students who graduated from historically Black colleges and universities or Hispanic-serving institutions may be slapped with higher interest rates to borrow or refinance student loans compared to students who graduated from mostly white colleges and universities.

The Student Borrower Protection Center, a nonprofit focused on ending student debt, studied loan rates given to borrowers from very similar backgrounds—including almost identical majors, annual incomes and occupations—but found that online lending sites like Upstart still offered graduates from HBCUs or Hispanic-serving institutions loans with higher interest rates, according to NBC News.

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What SBPC researchers found in their “Educational Redlining” report was that when they plugged in background information on hypothetical graduates of HBCUs like Howard University or Spelman College, students could be charged $3,500 in additional monies for a $30,000 five-year loan and students who’ve attended Hispanic-serving institutions such as New Mexico State University at Las Cruces could be charged even more, compared with similar information for hypothetical students attending non-minority institutions, such as New York University.

“It seems apparent when you do the side-by-side comparisons that where this hypothetical borrower went to school mattered in terms of how Upstart measured their creditworthiness, and that to Upstart there’s a penalty for attending an HBCU or HSI,” Kat Welbeck, civil rights counsel at SBPC, told NBC News.

Welbeck said the research was “alarming,” particularly when one considers the important mission HBCUs and HSIs fill in opening up access to higher education to Black people, Latinos, women, and older adults.

The study also found some disparities in the loan rates that Wells Fargo charges depending on where a graduate went to school, NBC News found.

“Basing a person’s creditworthiness on how ostensibly elite the institution they attended will perpetuate inequality and socioeconomic barriers,” Welbeck said to NBC News. “We talk about using educational data as innovative, but this is redlining education.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) shared the report on her Twitter page, writing “It makes no sense to charge students of color *more* for their loans simply for attending HBCU’s and Hispanic-serving institutions. These are students who already face enormous barriers to succeed. I’m looking for answers.”

Harris joined Sherrod Brown, D-OH, Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, Bob Menendez, D-NJ and Cory Booker, D-NJ, in sending a letter to Upstart urging the company to stop using educational data to determine loan rates, saying it could end in bias against minority students.

“The (Consumer Financial Protection) Bureau found that the use of (cohort default rate) to determine loan eligibility, underwriting, and pricing may have a disparate impact on minority students by reducing their access to credit and requiring those minority students . . . to pay higher rates than are otherwise available to similarly creditworthy non-Hispanic White students at schools with lower CDRs,” the senators said in the letter, according to NBC News.

READ MORE: OPINION: Congress has the power to ‘fix’ the lack of access to loan options, but their decision could leave Blacks permanently in the poor house

However, Upstart and Wells Fargo say they are not discriminating and they disagree with the SBPC report.

“The study’s characterizations … do not reflect our lending practices and its conclusions are exaggerated,” Vickee Adams, senior vice president of corporate communications at Wells Fargo, told NBC News in an emailed statement.