1st Edition

The Neoliberal Agenda and the Student Debt Crisis in U.S. Higher Education

Edited By Nicholas Hartlep, Lucille Eckrich, Brandon Hensley Copyright 2017
    320 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    318 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Capturing the voices of Americans living with student debt in the United States, this collection critiques the neoliberal interest-driven, debt-based system of U.S. higher education and offers alternatives to neoliberal capitalism and the corporatized university. Grounded in an understanding of the historical and political economic context, this book offers auto-ethnographic experiences of living in debt, and analyzes alternatives to the current system. Chapter authors address real questions such as, Do collegians overestimate the economic value of going to college? and How does the monetary system that student loans are part of operate? Pinpointing how developments in the political economy are accountable for students’ university experiences, this book provides an authoritative contribution to research in the fields of educational foundations and higher education policy and finance.


    List of Figures

    List of Tables


    Alan M. Collinge


    Nicholas D. Hartlep, Lucille L. T. Eckrich, and Brandon O. Hensley


              PART I - Critical Perspectives on Financing Higher Education in the United States

    1. Financing Higher Education in the United States: An Historical Overview of Loans in Federal Financial Aid Policy
    2. Enyu Zhou and Pilar Mendoza

    3. Bankruptcy Means-Testing, Austerity Measures, and Student Loan Debt
    4. Linda Elizabeth Coco

    5. African American Student Loan Debt: Deferring the Dream of Higher Education
    6. Cynthia D. Levy

    7. Monetary Critique and Student Debt
    8. Lucille L. T. Eckrich

      PART II -The Debt That Won’t Go Away: Stories of Non-Dischargeable Student Debt

    9. The Rise of the Adjuncts: Neoliberalism Invades the Professoriate
    10. Amy E. Swain

    11. "BFAMFAPhD": An Adjunct Professor’s Personal Experience With Student Debt Long After Leaving Graduate School
    12. Celeste M. Walker

    13. Debt(s) We Can’t Walk Out On: National Adjunct Walkout Day, Complicity, and the Neoliberal Threat to Social Movements in the Academy
    14. Brandon O. Hensley

    15. Misplaced Faith in the American Dream: Buried in Debt in the Catacombs of the Ivory Tower
    16. Brian R. Horn

    17. An Adjunct Professor’s Communication Barriers With Neoliberal Student Debt Collectors
    18. Antonio L. Ellis

    19. "Golden Years" in the Red: Student Loan Debt as Economic Slavery
    20. Kay Ann Taylor

    21. Should I Go Back to College?
    22. Melissa A. Del Rio

      PART III - Alternatives to American Neoliberal Financing of Higher Education

    23. Free Tuition: Prospects for Extending Free Schooling Into the Postsecondary Years
    24. James C. Palmer and Melissa R. Pitcock

    25. "Work Colleges" as an Alternative to Student Loan Debt

    26. Nicholas D. Hartlep and Diane R. Dean

    27. It Takes More Than a Village, It Takes a Nation
    28. Daniel A. Collier, T. Jameson Brewer, P.S. Myers, and Allison Witt

    29. Monetary Transformation and Public Education
    30. Lucille L. T. Eckrich

    31. Reflections on the Future: Setting the Agenda for a Post-Neoliberal U.S. Higher Education
      Nicholas D. Hartlep, Brandon O. Hensley, and Lucille L. T. Eckrich

    List of Contributors

    Index of Names

    Index of Subjects


    Nicholas D. Hartlep is Assistant Professor of Urban Education at Metropolitan State University, USA.

    Lucille L. T. Eckrich is Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at Illinois State University, USA.

    Brandon O. Hensley is Basic Course Director and Lecturer in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University, USA.


    "This book is a must-read for those who are concerned about whether the United States’ higher education system has the potential to fulfill students’ dreams and desires of finding permanent, well-paying jobs or whether it becomes merely a bastion for corporations to feed their coffers and centralize their power."

    --Bradley J. Porfilio, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at California State University, East Bay USA


    "This book makes an important contribution as it examines the student loan industry, exposes the neoliberal predatory lender tactics, the total lack of protection for student borrowers, and the need for changes in the industry. This book also highlights how the student debt industry has become a hegemonic tool mediating between the corporate centers of power and the common student/citizen. This book further helps to identify and illuminate the conditions in which student debt operates today and how it teaches students/citizens their place, their roles and their responsibilities as economic pawns in this neoliberal financial chess match."

    --Sheila Macrine, Professor of Teacher Education, University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth, USA


    "An instructive, appropriately personal, empirically grounded, and impressively critical indictment of the U.S. student debt crisis and its capitalistic, neoliberal undercurrents. This timely text advances important conversations about a pressing education policy issue that affects millions of Americans, corrupts colleges and universities, and undermines our nation’s economic wellness."

    --Shaun R. Harper, Clifford and Betty Allen Professor of Education, University of Southern California, USA


    "An ideology which makes higher education a privilege instead of a societal benefit has commodified human life and human freedom and placed high academic achievement out of the financial means of many young Americans. This book is a deep exploration of the disastrous educational funding system of America. It is required reading for every person concerned about whether future generations will be equipped intellectually to defend our freedoms, which will require access to higher learning, as a basic right."

    --Dennis Kucinich, Member of Congress, 1997-2013, Senior Member of House Committee on Education. Presidential candidate 2004 and 2008


    "This book offers a unique perspective – that of those in debt. The text provides a useful and timely overview of college finance and student debt, and offers a birds-eye view of the multiple problems students face once they encounter, and have to live with, debt "

    --William G. Tierney, Wilbur Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, University of Southern California, USA


    "Higher education in the United States has been transformed from a public good to a poverty industry under the aegis of debtfarism. With wide-ranging coverage of vital themes ranging from the exploitative practices of student loans to the politics of financing education, this edited volume brings together an invaluable collection of critical interrogations into the complex practices of neoliberalizing colleges. This excellent volume will quickly become a standard reference for understanding the commodification of tertiary education."

    --Susanne Soederberg, author of Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry


    "These authors remind us to be wary of the increasing commodification of college. They are right to be concerned that college costs and debt threatens to turn too many students into indentured foot soldiers for American capitalism. A college education is more than dollars and cents. Free nations need free colleges."

    --Anthony P. Carnevale, Research Professor and Director McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce


    "Student debt has become a prison and this excellent collection of essays raises the question of whether the augmentation of labor power through higher education is worth the cost. This powerful text exposes the current crisis of education, and courageously brings the reader face-to-face with the consequences of capital unchained. It should be read by all in the higher education community."

    --Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor, Chapman University


    "This amazing collection of papers is a must-read for any academic, administrator, or individual engaging with the higher education space. For any professor that purports to have the best interest of their students at heart, one must first understand the ways in which we have all been complicit in a seemingly value-neutral, neoliberal system that perpetuates unjust inequalities. Everyone working in the higher education space should seek to understand these forces and incentives that pushes higher education to be a space that is debt laden and driven by profit and prestige rather than a space of critical thinking and learning."

    --Eugenia Kim, Debt Collective Organizer


    "The Neoliberal Agenda and the Student Debt Crisis in U.S. Higher Education should serve as a clarion call to the Academy, to university stakeholders, ED, and the general public. Those in the Academy must recognize that they run the great risk of infuriating the public on a scale that this nation has never before seen and that, at long last, they must act (proactively, if that is still possible at this point) both to acknowledge their role in the creation of this problem and to take the responsibility, and make the sacrifices necessary, to earn back the trust that the public has given them to educate—not financially decimate—the citizens of this country."

    --Alan Collinge, from the Foreword


    "Laying the foundations for a prosperous America begins with ensuring that every student—regardless of race, income, or any other factor—is able to obtain the best education possible. This work recognizes this fundamental principle of our democracy and its economic importance in an increasingly competitive global job market. By providing an in-depth history of student-debt financing, and giving a face to the millions of students who have been victims of the student-loan crisis, this book is essential to both understanding the magnitude of the crisis we’re currently in and providing the steps to guaranteeing a quality and affordable higher education for every aspiring student in America."

    --Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ)


    "When I graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990, students were graduating from college with an average of about $12,000 in debt. Today, the average student debt for undergraduates in Minnesota is more than $31,000; the fifth-highest in the nation. One of the basic principles of the progressive movement has always been that getting a good education in America should be a right enjoyed by all–not privilege reserved for the rich and the lucky."

    --Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) 


    "The authors provide a compelling narrative depicting how the growing reliance on debt to finance postsecondary education has impacted an entire generation's financial security. Far too many millennials carry student debt and this book—full of important contextual insight and thoughtful ways forward—will be an important reference point for student advocates across the country who are always in need of relatable, well-researched, and sophisticated evidence to support their voices and calls for change in key policy spaces."

    --Christopher J. Nellum, Ph.D., Policy & Research Director, Young Invincibles 


    "The most salient theme in this up-to-date analysis of student debt in U.S. higher education is the revelation and evidence that the economic model of neoliberal capitalism of individualism rather than the common good, is the root cause of the well-orchestrated student debt crisis, as well as contributing to growing weaknesses in the academy."

    --Roberta Badger-Cain, Strike Debt Portland (and Jubilee Oregon)


    "No society has ever survived by devouring its young. But that is essentially what neoliberal America is doing. It has trapped 44 million current and former students in a spiral of debt and hopelessness – through rapacious student loans, the explosive cost of higher education, and an economy of low wages and temporary jobs. The crisis has indentured generations – making them the latest cash cow of a predatory economic and political system that exploits workers, people of color, immigrants, ecosystems and natural resources. The Neoliberal Agenda and the Student Debt Crisis is a monumental collection of scholarship that can help guide us out of this crisis. It is analytic, historic, narrative, and moral as it chronicles the betrayal of younger generations, the imposition of neoliberalism, and the effects of a privatized monetary system. In exposing the depth of the crisis, this book informs, infuriates, and motivates readers to redouble our efforts to bring the national scandal of student debt to an end, as a critical step towards an America and a world that works for all of us. This book is indispensable."   

    --Jill Stein, Green Party's nominee for President of the United States in the 2012 and 2016 elections


    "Millions of Americans think they know the student debt crisis, and many of us do. Our lives are built within the confines of scholastic debt or we are financially barred from entering those confines in the first place. Our lay knowledge is profound and motivational. But to move forward, we need more: a thorough and disciplined analysis of the causes, impacts, experiences, and understandings of the student debt crisis, as well as alternative responses to it. Hartlep, Eckrich, and Hensley assemble such an analysis, packed with quantitative sociological, political economic, socio-historical, and critical policy analyses, as well as insightful insider accounts. The editors have created a necessary resource in the struggle for the future; may this book find wide use."

    -- Ben Manski, founder, Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution