How the financial pressures of paying for college affect the lives and well-being of middle-class families
The struggle to pay for college is one of the defining features of middle-class life in America today. At kitchen tables all across the country, parents agonize over whether to burden their children with loans or to sacrifice their own financial security by taking out a second mortgage or draining their retirement savings. Indebted takes readers into the homes of middle-class families throughout the nation to reveal the hidden consequences of student debt and the ways that financing college has transformed family life.
Caitlin Zaloom gained the confidence of numerous parents and their college-age children, who talked candidly with her about stressful and intensely personal financial matters that are usually kept private. In this remarkable book, Zaloom describes the profound moral conflicts for parents as they try to honor what they see as their highest parental duty—providing their children with opportunity—and shows how parents and students alike are forced to take on enormous debts and gamble on an investment that might not pay off. What emerges is a troubling portrait of an American middle class fettered by the "student finance complex"—the bewildering labyrinth of government-sponsored institutions, profit-seeking firms, and university offices that collect information on household earnings and assets, assess family needs, and decide who is eligible for aid and who is not.
Superbly written and unflinchingly honest, Indebted breaks through the culture of silence surrounding the student debt crisis, revealing the unspoken costs of sending our kids to college.
Zaloom's comprehensive expos of the college-financing industry argues that middle-class Americans are in an unresolvable bind: culturally mandated to ensure "open futures" for their children, but unable to afford to do so without help, they become ensnared in risky, speculative debt. Zaloom (Out of the Pits), associate professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, interviewed 160 families about financing college and found that spiraling tuition, stagnant wages, and the way college finance is designed with an idyllic nuclear family in mind that often bears little resemblance to those seeking assistance, because it does not take into account medical expenses or dependents other than children have created an impossible situation for middle-class families. Those who suffer the most, Zaloom finds, are precisely those who would benefit most from the upward mobility that college is supposed to ensure. African-American parents, for example, carry more debt on average than white parents, and black students carry 70% more debt than white students. Zaloom calls for reinvestment in public education funding, so that personal penury is not the cost of seeking higher education and the opportunities it can provide. The facts described here will be familiar to anyone who's heard of the student-debt crisis; the analysis, with its emphasis on the moral dilemma facing middle-class families, will resonate with parents confronting it.