Exclusive - Sara Goldrick-Rab Extended Interview

September 27, 2016 - Sara Goldrick-Rab 09/27/2016 Views: 7,923

"Paying the Price" author Sara Goldrick-Rab talks about the financial burdens college students face and discusses ways to improve access to higher education. (9:10)

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My guest tonight is a professorof higher education policy

and sociologyat Temple University,

and author, whose new bookis called Paying the Price.

Please welcomeSara Goldrick-Rab, everybody.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

-Welcome to the show. -Yeah,thanks very much for having me.

No, no, it is honestlya pleasure having you,

especially at this time--especially with what's happening

not just in America,but in South Africa.

Uh, let me go in first of all

and say the bookis truly mind-blowing.

You know,you hear about the problem

that faces college studentsin America--

the debts that pile up,you know,

the inaccessibilityto funding and so on.

But a book like thisthat lays out solutions,

as opposed to just problems,is really, really interesting.

-You followed 3,000 students-Mm-hmm.

for a number of years,

which some people would saymakes you a creep--

-but you're not.-(laughter)

-You're not.-No.

-You're a professor.-(laughs)

Let's start...let's start with the why.

Look, I wanted to understandat a time

when college ismore expensive than ever,

and, frankly, work doesn't paylike it used to,

and families are struggling,

how do studentsget through college,

and how do they make ends meet,

and, frankly,why is it that so many of them

end up with no college degreeand in debt.

I wanted to knowwhat was going on.

And that's the reasonfor following around

-those 3,000 people, whichwe did for six years. -Yeah.

And, you know,we saw so many things happening

that led me to understand betterwhy it is,

when we thinkwe're giving money out

through the financial aidsystem,

so many people still end upwithout what they really need.

Uh, that's-that's-that'sone of the-the topics you tackle

in the book,and through personal stories

-you really illuminate that.-Mm-hmm.

There are childrenwho don't know.

There are studentswho don't realize

they can access more funding.

And sometimesit's just the difference

between a college counselorsaying,

"Hey, you know, you qualifyfor this funding,

or you don't qualifyfor this funding."

Like, that seems like a problemthat's so easy to fix.

Well, and in that sense, it is.

I mean, some of thisis an information issue.

And for example,Michelle Obama's been out there

telling people,"Go do the FAFSA."

Which is this small Americanbureaucratic tragedy, honestly.

It's this horrific form.

But, you know, the fact is,

you-- even after you do theFAFSA, you fall short.

And I watch this time and again.

Like, I watched thisyoung woman, Chloe.

She was 18 years old,

and she wanted to be aveterinary technical assistant.

-Yeah.-She didn't even have the dream

of being a vet, right?

She had modest ambitions.

And she wanted to do thisbecause she loved horses.

And she wanted this so badly

that she even sold her own horseto help pay for college.

Well, I feel likethat's counterproductive,

but anyway,you could have just worked...

-(laughter) -But anyway, we'lltalk about that another time.

Well... so, the thing is,

that her-her mom made lessthan $25,000 a year,

and Chloe did do the FAFSA.

And she showed up,and I met her, you know,

early in her time,in her first year of college.

And she showed me her bills.

And she's at a two-year college,

and she's gotten partof the Pell Grant,

-and she's gottensome state aid, -Yeah.

and yet, she's facingan out-of-pocket cost

of over $12,000 a year,

when the government has decided

that all she can affordis $2,000.

So it's not justabout information;

it's about the fact that wetell people to go to college,

and then we literallyleave them short.

It's also scary, because I'vealways known of the debts,

I've always knownof people struggling.

What I didn't know aboutbefore I read this book was...

people strugglingwith actual food.

Like, actuallyhaving foods to eat

is a huge issuethat American students face.

Yeah, this-this broke...

I mean, studies are notsupposed to break your heart.

And this sort of did, becauseit was September of 2008,

and my research team had justcome back from another interview

with another student,and we asked students

very basic questionslike how is college going?

What's your biggest challenge?

And one young womanlooked at my...

one of my graduate studentsand she said,

"The biggest challengeis eating."

She said, "I-I can'tfocus on school.

"If somebody elseis eating in the classroom

"I'm thinking about what they'reeating because I haven't eaten.

"If only I couldhave enough food to eat

so that I could focuson learning."

And since that time-- I thought,"Oh, my gosh, this is...

you know, that was just oneperson, it had to be."

We went out there,we surveyed more people.

Since then I've done severalstudies all over the nation

with my team. You know,the latest study that we did,

which was in ten communitycolleges around the country.

That study found that 13%--

13% of community collegestudents were homeless.


I don't know what to say.

It's-it's literallyheartbreaking,

and it's somethingthat we absolutely

could and should prevent.

The... the situation

seems really dire.

-But as I said, you have laidout some solutions. -Mm-hmm.

There are some measuresthat could... that could be

put into play.Uh, what do you think

is the most realistic thingthat could be done?

Because you have so many in thebook, then people would say,

"Oh, that's not easyto implement overnight,

that's not something wecan achieve." What would you say

-are the first steps thatcould be taken... -Sure, sure.

to try and get more accessto education and even

food within the system?

Yeah. So here's the thing,we know how

to give people foodso they can go to school.

It's called the NationalSchool Lunch Program.

And we've had it in placefor a very long time

for schoolchildren, so we knowthat students need to have

their milk in the morning andlunch at... you know, at noon.

And we do that for elementaryand high school students.

And what we need to do is expand

the National School LunchProgram into higher education.

That's number one. Number two,

we have food stamps out therethat are available for people,

but, for college students,they can only get them

if they also work20 hours a week.

Working 20 hours a weekconflicts with the time

they need to put inin order to finish school.

That doesn't make sense.That's actually inefficient.

We need to remove that rule.

And then, you know,all of these people out there

who are building housingon campuses

and, you know,putting up dorms, look, frankly,

they need to reserve some spacesin each of those...

-in each of those apartmentbuildings, for example, -Yeah.

for peoplewho can't afford housing,

so they haveemergency situations

for the homeless studentsand things like that.

Those are basic starting points.

There's a lot morethat we could do.

How would... how would you feelabout, uh, shared income?

It's become a discussionthat's come up, people saying...

You know, I-I think oneor more universities in the U.S.

have started thinkingabout this, where they've gone,

"Why not have a systemwhere people who have money

-"or businesses say, 'We'llsponsor a student. -Mm-hmm.

"'We'll pay for your tuition.And then we sign an agreement,

"'and for ten, maybe 20 years,

-"'you'll pay us a percentageof your income, -Yeah.

and that way you don't haveany debt. There's no interest.'"

How does that feel to you?Some people are for it,

-some people are against it.-Look, I think a system

like that is gonna benefitthe already advantaged people.

The people in this lifewho start from behind

will not be picked to havethose investments made in them,

just like, frankly,they wouldn't be getting

student loans if we rancredit checks on them right now.

We need to take risks on peoplewho are already behind

in this society, becausethey need college to get ahead.

And if we don't take that risk,they're forever gonna be behind.

But we already knowthe transformative power

-of a college degree.-Yeah.

It literally changes lives,both for the people who get it,

and for their children andfor their children's children.

So this is an investmentwe can't afford to not make.

And we know thatabout high school.

There's nothing specialabout 13th grade.

-It's 12th grade, plus one.-Yeah.

-You know, we can do this.-If you look at the candidates

right now-- I don't knowif you've had a chance--

but do you find that eitherof the candidates has... has...

-(laughter)-Why are you guys laughing?

I'm asking a very...very serious question.

(laughing):Have I had a chance?

Very serious question.

Um, between the two of them,do you find

that either of the candidateshas a viable plan

that would...that would move this forward?

Look, Hillary Clinton recognizes

that there is a tonof pain out there,

and it isn't limitedonly to low-income people.

The middle class is also beingpriced out of higher education.

And the current financial aidsystem is not helping.

-Yeah.-And so she recognizes

we have to do somethingtotally new,

and I really appreciate that.

What's workable or not--

well, that's for the wonksto sort out, frankly.

Can we afford it?Yeah, we absolutely can.

There's so much wastein the current system.

I don't knowhow many people realize

that we give away$40 billion a year

of taxpayer moneyto places like,

you know, DeVry University,

and more importantly, placeslike the University of Phoenix.

-I've seen them online.-Right? Which are for-profit.

-Yeah, you've seen them online.-Yeah.

They say you're gonna rise up.

No, you're not.You're not rising up.

-You're falling down, andyou're leaving with debt. -Wow.

And we give $40 billionof our own money right now.

We also give moneyto places like Harvard

which takes it homein its endowment.

We can stop doing inefficient,ineffective things like that,

and we can pay for the peoplewho need college

in order to changeand improve their lives.

-We can do that tomorrow.-It's, uh,

honestly, one of the mostexciting books I've read,

because, as I said,you've got solutions.

It's a manual that I'd recommendto anyone out there--

if you're parent, if you're ateacher, if you're a student.

Paying the Price is available now.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, everybody.