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This book offers an intimate and incisive portrayal of how the problem of paying for college has taken on an outsize role in the lives of middle class families in the United States.

Zaloom, Caitlin


How Families Make College Work at Any Cost


    48,95 € / $56.25 / £44.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
    Copyright year:
    To be published:
    September 2019
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    Aims and Scope

    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 allow their children to be burdened with loans or 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.


    168 pages
    4 b/w illus.
    Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

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    Caitlin Zaloom is associate professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. She is a founding editor of Public Books and the author of Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London. She lives in New York City. Twitter @caitlinzaloom


    "Combining sharp analytical insight with vivid interviews, Indebted transforms our understanding of college finances. Behind the cold statistics on mounting student debt, Zaloom discovers middle-class families' deeply moral ledgers, revealing how notions of good parenting pivot on providing children with a college education regardless of expense. A must-read for specialists and general readers alike."—Viviana A. Zelizer, Princeton University, author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy

    "This timely book brings the best of humanistic social science into conversation with the critical study of the American economy. Tying the very definition of middle-class status to a largely privatized world of loans, debts, and finance, Zaloom grounds her book in beautiful human portraits of the struggles and anxieties of the speculative economy of financialized higher education in the United States."—Arjun Appadurai, author of Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance

    "College affordability is one of the most urgent problems affecting opportunity in this country, and the consequences of excessive student debt are both deep and widespread. Indebted, which is based on groundbreaking research on the financial lives of middle-class families, provides an intimate view of how the struggle to pay for college has transformed the American experience. It's required reading for everyone concerned about the costs of higher education—students, parents, and policymakers alike."—Arne Duncan, managing partner at Emerson Collective, former US Secretary of Education, and author of How Schools Work

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