University Business September 2017 - 10

OnTopic

Q&A with Sara Goldrick-Rab
By Tim Goral

Making higher
education affordable
Fixing the financial aid system may mean
starting from scratch

Sara Goldrick-Rab's mission is
to make higher education the
accessible and affordable place
that families want and need it to
be. In Paying the Price: College
Costs, Financial Aid, and the
Betrayal of the American Dream
(2016, University of Chicago Press),
Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher
education policy and sociology at
Temple University, describes what
was learned from nearly a decade of
studying how changes to higher ed
financial aid impacts young people
and families.
"The hard truth is that while
financial aid reduces the everincreasing cost of college, more
often than not it still leaves families
with unmanageable prices," she
says. "When it comes to the group
that this financial aid system was
designed to help-families earning
an average of $16,000 a year-the
net cost of college now amounts
to a whopping 84 percent of their
income."

What was the impetus for your study?
Two of the biggest donors to my university wanted advice on creating a
private scholarship program. They
said, "We want to encourage people
from low-income families to get college
degrees. If we give this money away,
who do we give it to? How would you
target it?"
I did some research and came away
with the sense that there really wasn't
a good answer for them-we really
didn't know where it would be most
effective. Some programs give it to students based on merit and some based
on need, but the impacts of those programs vary tremendously.
So we decided to experiment. Some
people would get a scholarship based
on need and some wouldn't, and we'd
follow them over time and see what
happened. I felt the only way to really
help students was to get more evidence
to answer questions like these.
Were there surprises?
Yes, and they started happening right
away. For example, one of the first
things was that if we sent someone a
letter that said, "You're going to get
extra money for college," we assumed
they'd be happy. But as soon as we
started meeting students who got those

UBmag.me/afford

10 | September 2017

letters, we were surprised at how many
of them were actually not happy-they
were suspicious. They really weren't
sure what was going on. They thought
it was a scam.
That was the first indication that
financial aid, in general, is a program
that people don't trust. Another surprise came when we asked students
how they used money, how they made
money, and so on. I expected to hear
students say, for example, that they
didn't have the books they needed for
class or they didn't have the laptop
they needed. We did not expect to
hear students tell us they didn't have
enough food to eat. We did not expect
to witness somebody moving into a
homeless shelter.
And, working during college was
much harder than I had previously
understood. I waited tables to work
my way through college, and when I
needed more hours, or needed to work
a specific shift because of my classes,
they gave it to me. Well, now we see
the opposite. We see students who can't
get enough hours, who have to work at
multiple part-time jobs to get enough
hours, who are constantly at risk of losing their job if they have to be in class.
On food insecurity, you suggest expanding the National School Lunch
Program into college. Is that possible?
It's more possible than I thought it was
when I wrote that. I've been having
conversations on both the left and the
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business September 2017

University Business September 2017 - Intro LOC
University Business September 2017 - Cover1
University Business September 2017 - Cover2
University Business September 2017 - 1
University Business September 2017 - 2
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University Business September 2017 - Cover3
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University Business September 2017 - 58
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