Indentured Students: How Government-Guaranteed Loans Left Generations Drowning in College Debt

Belknap. Aug. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9780674251489. $29.95. ED
Fittingly dedicated to “the 45 million of us, and counting, who together owe more than $1.7 trillion,” this fascinating work delves into the thorny history of loans and aid to post-secondary students in the United States. Shermer (history, Loyola Univ. of Chicago) compellingly argues that mounting student debt, resulting from government-backed loans, has put home ownership, marriage, parenthood, and retirement out of reach for many Americans and often for their loan cosigners; indeed, the term “indentured” in the book’s title is not meant to be hyperbole. Shermer considers the racial wealth gap and gender-based salary inequities and writes that many borrowers were not fully aware of the long-term implications of incurring heavy student loan debt. She also puts into context federal programs and legislation, including the Land-Grant College Act, New Deal work-study programs, the GI Bill, the Higher Education Act, the National Defense Education Act, Pell grants, and lending from the Student Loan Marketing Association (Sallie Mae). The book’s appendixes offer data on the revenue sources of U.S. post-secondary institutions from the academic years 1909–10 through 1989–90; median household income by race and Hispanic origin (1967–2018); and consumer debt since 1945.
VERDICT Readers curious about how students went from working their way through college to facing an untenable situation fostered by “creative financing” will appreciate this thorough volume.
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