Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

University of Chicago Press
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If you are a young person, and you work hard enough, you can get a college degree and set yourself on the path to a good life, right?

Not necessarily, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, and with Paying the Price, she shows in damning detail exactly why. Quite simply, college is far too expensive for many people today, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it.

Drawing on an unprecedented study of 3,000 young adults who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008 with the support of federal aid and Pell Grants, Goldrick-Rab reveals the devastating effect of these shortfalls. Half the students in the study left college without a degree, while less than 20 percent finished within five years. The cause of their problems, time and again, was lack of money. Unable to afford tuition, books, and living expenses, they worked too many hours at outside jobs, dropped classes, took time off to save money, and even went without adequate food or housing. In many heartbreaking cases, they simply left school—not with a degree, but with crippling debt. Goldrick-Rab combines that shocking data with devastating stories of six individual students, whose struggles make clear the horrifying human and financial costs of our convoluted financial aid policies.

America can fix this problem. In the final section of the book, Goldrick-Rab offers a range of possible solutions, from technical improvements to the financial aid application process, to a bold, public sector–focused “first degree free” program. What’s not an option, this powerful book shows, is doing nothing, and continuing to crush the college dreams of a generation of young people.
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About the author

Sara Goldrick-Rab is coeditor of Reinventing Financial Aid: Charting a New Course to College Affordability and has written on education issues for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. She is a recipient of the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association and the Atlantic, Slate, and NPR have covered her work. She founded the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s first research laboratory aimed at making college affordable, and is a noted influence on the development of both federal and state higher education policies. Dr. Goldrick-Rab is professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University. Follow her on Twitter @saragoldrickrab.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Sep 1, 2016
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9780226404486
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Education
Business & Economics / Personal Finance / General
Education / Educational Policy & Reform / General
Education / Finance
Education / General
Education / Higher
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Today, a college education is increasingly viewed as the gateway to the American Dream—a necessary prerequisite for social mobility. Yet recent policy reforms in the United States effectively steer former welfare recipients away from an education that could further their career prospects, forcing them directly into the workforce where they often find only low-paying jobs with little opportunity for growth. In Putting Poor People to Work, Kathleen Shaw, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Christopher Mazzeo, and Jerry A. Jacobs explore this troubling disconnect between the principles of "work-first" and "college for all." Using comprehensive interviews with government officials and sophisticated data from six states over a four year period, Putting Poor People to Work shows how recent changes in public policy have reduced the quantity and quality of education and training available to adults with low incomes. The authors analyze how two policies encouraging work—the federal welfare reform law of 1996 and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998—have made moving people off of public assistance as soon as possible, with little regard to their long-term career prospects, a government priority. Putting Poor People to Work shows that since the passage of these "work-first" laws, not only are fewer low-income individuals pursuing postsecondary education, but when they do, they are increasingly directed towards the most ineffective, short-term forms of training, rather than higher-quality college-level education. Moreover, the schools most able and ready to serve poor adults—the community colleges—are deterred by these policies from doing so. Having a competitive, agile workforce that can compete with any in the world is a national priority. In a global economy where skills are paramount, that goal requires broad popular access to education and training. Putting Poor People to Work shows how current U.S. policy discourages poor Americans from seeking out a college education, stranding them in jobs with little potential for growth. This important new book makes a powerful argument for a shift in national priorities that would encourage the poor to embrace both work and education, rather than having to choose between the two. Institute for Research on Poverty Affiliated Books on Poverty and Public Policy">An Institute for Research on Poverty Affiliated Book on Poverty and Public Policy
College tuition and student debt levels have been rising at an alarming pace for at least two decades. These trends, coupled with an economy weakened by a major recession, have raised serious questions about whether we are headed for a major crisis, with borrowers defaulting on their loans in unprecedented numbers and taxpayers being forced to foot the bill. Game of Loans draws on new evidence to explain why such fears are misplaced—and how the popular myth of a looming crisis has obscured the real problems facing student lending in America.

Bringing needed clarity to an issue that concerns all of us, Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos cut through the sensationalism and misleading rhetoric to make the compelling case that college remains a good investment for most students. They show how, in fact, typical borrowers face affordable debt burdens, and argue that the truly serious cases of financial hardship portrayed in the media are less common than the popular narrative would have us believe. But there are more troubling problems with student loans that don't receive the same attention. They include high rates of avoidable defaults by students who take on loans but don’t finish college—the riskiest segment of borrowers—and a dysfunctional market where competition among colleges drives tuition costs up instead of down.

Persuasive and compelling, Game of Loans moves beyond the emotionally charged and politicized talk surrounding student debt, and offers a set of sensible policy proposals that can solve the real problems in student lending.

From growing their children, parents grow themselves, learning the lessons their children teach. “Growing up”, then, is as much a developmental process of parenthood as it is of childhood. While countless books have been written about the challenges of parenting, nearly all of them position the parent as instructor and support-giver, the child as learner and in need of direction. But the parent-child relationship is more complicated and reciprocal; over time it transforms in remarkable, surprising ways. As our children grow up, and we grow older, what used to be a one-way flow of instruction and support, from parent to child, becomes instead an exchange. We begin to learn from them. The lessons parents learn from their offspring—voluntarily and involuntarily, with intention and serendipity, often through resistance and struggle—are embedded in their evolving relationships and shaped by the rapidly transforming world around them.

With Growing Each Other Up, Macarthur Prize–winning sociologist and educator Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot offers an intimately detailed, emotionally powerful account of that experience. Building her book on a series of in-depth interviews with parents around the country, she offers a counterpoint to the usual parental development literature that mostly concerns the adjustment of parents to their babies’ rhythms and the ways parents weather the storms of their teenage progeny. The focus here is on the lessons emerging adult children, ages 15 to 35, teach their parents. How are our perspectives as parents shaped by our children? What lessons do we take from them and incorporate into our worldviews? Just how much do we learn—often despite our own emotionally fraught resistance—from what they have seen of life that we, perhaps, never experienced? From these parent portraits emerges the shape of an education composed by young adult children—an education built on witness, growing, intimacy, and acceptance.

Growing Each Other Up is rich in the voices of actual parents telling their own stories of raising children and their children raising them; watching that fundamental connection shift over time. Parents and children of all ages will recognize themselves in these evocative and moving accounts and look at their own growing up in a revelatory new light.
America’s public universities educate 80% of our nation’s college students. But in the wake of rising demands on state treasuries, changing demographics, growing income inequality, and legislative indifference, many of these institutions have fallen into decline. Tuition costs have skyrocketed, class sizes have gone up, the number of courses offered has gone down, and the overall quality of education has decreased significantly.

Here James C. Garland draws on more than thirty years of experience as a professor, administrator, and university president to argue that a new compact between state government and public universities is needed to make these schools more affordable and financially secure. Saving Alma Mater challenges a change-resistant culture in academia that places too low a premium on efficiency and productivity. Seeing a crisis of campus leadership, Garland takes state legislators to task for perpetuating the decay of their public university systems and calls for reforms in the way university presidents and governing boards are selected. He concludes that the era is long past when state appropriations can enable public universities to keep their fees low and affordable. Saving Alma Mater thus calls for the partial deregulation of public universities and a phase-out of their state appropriations. Garland’s plan would tie university revenues to their performance and exploit the competitive pressures of the academic marketplace to control costs, rein in tuition, and make schools more responsive to student needs.

A much-needed blueprint for reform based on Garland’s real-life successes as the head of Miami University of Ohio, Saving Alma Mater will be essential for anyone concerned with the costs and quality of higher education in America today.


“The best book yet on the complex lives and choices of for-profit students.”
—The New York Times Book Review

More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. These schools have been around just as long as their bucolic not-for-profit counterparts, yet shockingly little is known about why they have expanded so rapidly in recent years—during the so-called Wall Street era of for-profit colleges.

In Lower Ed Tressie McMillan Cottom—a bold and rising public scholar, herself once a recruiter at two for-profit colleges—expertly parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show precisely how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today. McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. And she doesn’t stop there.

With sharp insight and deliberate acumen, McMillan Cottom delivers a comprehensive view of postsecondary for-profit education by illuminating the experiences of the everyday people behind the shareholder earnings, congressional battles, and student debt disasters. The relatable human stories in Lower Ed—from mothers struggling to pay for beauty school to working class guys seeking “good jobs” to accomplished professionals pursuing doctoral degrees—illustrate that the growth of for-profit colleges is inextricably linked to larger questions of race, gender, work, and the promise of opportunity in America.

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.

Today, a college education is increasingly viewed as the gateway to the American Dream—a necessary prerequisite for social mobility. Yet recent policy reforms in the United States effectively steer former welfare recipients away from an education that could further their career prospects, forcing them directly into the workforce where they often find only low-paying jobs with little opportunity for growth. In Putting Poor People to Work, Kathleen Shaw, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Christopher Mazzeo, and Jerry A. Jacobs explore this troubling disconnect between the principles of "work-first" and "college for all." Using comprehensive interviews with government officials and sophisticated data from six states over a four year period, Putting Poor People to Work shows how recent changes in public policy have reduced the quantity and quality of education and training available to adults with low incomes. The authors analyze how two policies encouraging work—the federal welfare reform law of 1996 and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998—have made moving people off of public assistance as soon as possible, with little regard to their long-term career prospects, a government priority. Putting Poor People to Work shows that since the passage of these "work-first" laws, not only are fewer low-income individuals pursuing postsecondary education, but when they do, they are increasingly directed towards the most ineffective, short-term forms of training, rather than higher-quality college-level education. Moreover, the schools most able and ready to serve poor adults—the community colleges—are deterred by these policies from doing so. Having a competitive, agile workforce that can compete with any in the world is a national priority. In a global economy where skills are paramount, that goal requires broad popular access to education and training. Putting Poor People to Work shows how current U.S. policy discourages poor Americans from seeking out a college education, stranding them in jobs with little potential for growth. This important new book makes a powerful argument for a shift in national priorities that would encourage the poor to embrace both work and education, rather than having to choose between the two. Institute for Research on Poverty Affiliated Books on Poverty and Public Policy">An Institute for Research on Poverty Affiliated Book on Poverty and Public Policy
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