Paying the Price:

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

One of the most sustained and vigorous public debates today is about the value—and, crucially, the price—of college. But an unspoken, outdated assumption underlies all sides of this debate: if a young person works hard enough, they’ll be able to get a college degree and be on the path to a good life.
That’s simply not true anymore, 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 twenty 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, even went without adequate food or housing. In a heartbreaking number of cases, they simply left school—not with a degree, but with crippling debt.
We can fix this problem. Goldrick-Rab closes the book by laying out a number of possible solutions, including a public sector–focused “first degree free” program. What’s not an option, this powerful shows, is doing nothing, and continuing to crush the college dreams of a generation of young people.

"This book is truly mind-blowing."

      — Trevor Noah, The Daily Show

Paying the Price was named one of "Books from 2016 you should read if you know what’s good for you."

- John Warner, The Chicago Tribune

Paying the Price is mentioned in "How the Financing of Colleges May Lead to Disaster!"


     -from Rana ForooharThe New York Review of Books

"Paying the Price is a landmark book that sheds light on the numerous contradictions, inconsistencies and problems with the current financial aid system. An attempt to encapsulate the problems of the American financial aid crisis in 260 pages is no small task. But in all, her book accurately conveys how the current financial aid system is a betrayal of the American Dream."

      —Toni Airaksinen, Quillette 

      — Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, president and alumnus of Miami Dade College


      — Diane Ravitch

      — Melissa Harris-Perry

“Necessary reading for anyone concerned about the fate of American higher education.” Read more here.

      — Kirkus Book Review


Paying the Price was featured among "Who's Afraid of the Student Debt Crisis?"

      — Marshall Steinbaum, Boston Review


"Goldrick-Rab’s book has taught me the importance of patience.”

Dr. Z Nicolazzo, Trans* Resilience Blog


PAYING THE PRICE made the 2017 UC-Berkeley Summer Reading List — What Can We Change in a Single Generation?

Paying the Price is Times Higher Education's Book of the Week: "Goldrick-Rab’s findings don’t simply cast doubt upon this aspect of the American dream. They blow it sky-high."

      —Laurie Taylor, Times Higher Education 

Paying the Price was first runner-up for #IHEreaderschoice award and also one of Favorite Education Books of the Year

"Paying the Price is an invaluable resource, chock-full of data and empathy."

"This book answers all of your questions about why financial aid doesn’t work"

      — Casey Quinlan, ThinkProgress


      — Pedro Ruiz

      — F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University

—Marc Lamont Hill, author of Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.

“This cogent and persuasive argument for a more humane and efficient program to make higher education accessible to all capable students draws upon thorough research and an array of personal portraits. Highly recommended for parents and taxpayers.” 

      — Library Journal, Starred Review

“This book is grounded in data,  not rhetoric" 

      — Anya Kamenetz, NPR

“What if we rebuilt the financial aid system around the ways that students actually live? Sara Goldrick-Rab takes an admirable shot in Paying the Price." 

      — Matt Reed, Inside Higher Ed

“Sara poses some outstanding potential solutions that can be advocated for on a local and national level, including a reimagining of how work study aid is distributed across institutions and an extension of the National School Lunch program into the higher education space.." 

      — Amma Marfo, LinkedIn Blog

"This book helped me wrestle with the pain of being a limited-income student by understanding the stories of others like me and that I am not alone."

      — Marrisa Taylor, Propeller Collective Blog

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