[UCP Books]: Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream by Sara Goldrick-Rab




College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

By Sara Goldrick-Rab


For nearly a decade, sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab tracked 3,000 young adults who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008, with the goal of understanding college affordability and its impact on graduation rates. The results of that unprecedented and exclusive study are revealed in PAYING THE PRICE: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (University of Chicago Press; on sale September 27, 2016; hardcover), an eye-opening and alarming new book that shows with damning clarity that college students drop out overwhelmingly because they cannot afford the price.

Of the students Goldrick-Rab and her team followed, half dropped out of school, and less than twenty percent finished a bachelor’s degree in five years. Additional grant money helped alleviate some of the cost, but was rarely enough. The study revealed that students rarely finish college when their costs are not fully covered; and if they do, it takes them longer than it should, and they graduate with a substantial amount of debt.

“In the past, students and families who worked hard stood a real chance of attaining a college degree, a ticket to the good life.  Today, the promise of a college degree no longer holds true,” Goldrick-Rab writes. “Millions enroll in higher education with plans to work, borrow, and save, only to find that their funds still fall short.  Even living on ramen, doubling up with roommates, and working a part-time job isn’t enough to make ends meet.” Quite simply, college is far too expensive for many people today.

This is a crushing blow to the outdated assumption that college—especially public college—is affordable for those who really want to be there, or those who work a job while attending, or those who receive financial aid.

PAYING THE PRICE is more than just about numbers and statistics. It’s about real students, real dreams, and real heartache. Goldrick-Rab focuses on six students whose stories make plain the human costs of our convoluted financial aid policies. One example is Chloe Johnson, an aspiring veterinarian who sold her beloved horse, took out loans, shared an off-campus apartment with a friend, and worked two jobs, but still could not meet the financial demands and dropped out. She had to work so many hours to pay for her “Expected Family Contribution” that she could not stay awake in class, and did not have enough money for food or gas. When she finally dropped a class to help her performance in other classes, Johnson found out at the end of the semester that her reduced course load made her ineligible for financial aid. After leaving school, she had nothing to show for her college years but debt. Johnson’s story is the rule, not the exception, and illustrates how broken the social contract is between society’s expectation that young people attend college, and the reality that awaits them there.

We can fix this problem, and Goldrick-Rab offers a number of possible solutions, from changing the content and timing of FAFSA forms, to allowing more flexibility in how students can use their awarded aid money, to funding a public sector-focused “first degree first” program. She also addresses how housing and food insecurity adds to the problem of college affordability. What’s not an option, this powerful book shows, is doing nothing.

Gripping, infuriating, and galvanizing PAYING THE PRICE is a must-read for anyone who cares about the state of higher education in America today—or who cares about a student facing these challenges in the years ahead.


Sara Goldrick-Rab is coauthor of Reinventing Financial Aid: Charting a New Course to College Affordability and has written on education issues for the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other publications. Goldrick-Rab is currently a Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia, and is a former professor of higher education policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s first laboratory aimed at improving equitable outcomes in postsecondary education. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently named her Twitter account (@saragoldrickrab) one of the most indispensable ones to follow.

College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream
By Sara Goldrick-Rab
University of Chicago Press
on sale September 27th  2016
Hardcover / $27.50 / 368 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0226404349


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