Cutting Back, Eating Less, Paying The Price – Ch 5 Reflection

There are three statistics that stood out to me while reading this chapter:

“Twenty-four percent of our students indicated that in the past month they did not have enough money to buy food, ate less then they felt they should, or cut the size of their meals because there was not enough money.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

and

“When asked if they ever wen without eating for an entire day because they lacked enough money for food, 6 percent of students said yes.” Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

also

“the survey revealed that one in five students was hungry, and 13 percent were homeless.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

It is jarring to see how prevalent hunger is among college students. Thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which Sara brings up), how can we expect our students to engage in critical thinking when their physiological needs are not being met? I was pleased to read that there’s a growing number of food pantries aiming to address this issue, but the fact that some students must forego food and shelter to attend college is ridiculous.

Sara also unpacks the psychological aspect of these realities, describing a positive reinforcement cycle:

“Scarcity imposes psychic costs, reducing mental bandwidth and distorting decision making in ways that make their situations worse, not better.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (4)

With significant student populations attending class under these conditions, I’ve been considering what the best approaches would be for instructors in the classroom. One idea I heard that seems viable is making fruit available to your students. I know this would have benefited me because I recall having packed class/lab schedules that periodically meant skipping lunch. So, access to fruit would have made a difference for me.

Finally, if you haven’t experienced SPENT yet, you need to attempt the challenge. It fits well with chapter 5 of Paying The Price.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we expect our students to engage in critical thinking when their physiological needs are not being met? (Reflective)
  2. How can instructors help students who experience hunger in their courses?
  3. What resources, like Single Stop, food pantries, etc., are available on your campus?
  4. If you played SPENT, what was your experience like? How did it make you feel?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Juan José Valencia Antía via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2619 (Kindle Edition).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2621 (Kindle Edition).
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2644 (Kindle Edition).
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2794 (Kindle Edition).

Disproportionate Struggles, Paying The Price – Ch 4 Reflection

This has certainly been the hardest chapter to read thus far. Not only the struggles facing Chloe, Ian, Tyler, Nima, Norbert, and Sophie (CINNTS) but many of the statistics that Sara includes are heartbreaking:

low-income families hold student debt amounting to about 70 percent of their income, while wealthier families have student debt amounting to around 10 percent of income – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

and

A disproportionate fraction of our African American students 38% as compared to 11% of white students) had a negative expected family contribution, signaling that their families had a great deal of financial need….White families hold as much as twenty times the wealth of black families (2)….In other words, income translates into wealth differently for black and white families. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

also

38% of people from low-income families will remain in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution even if they earn a college degree. And that is an important “if,” given that only 11 percent of them are likely to complete degrees. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (4)

Notable Themes From Chapter 4

Culturally, Americans believe students should work during college.

Access to jobs and work study have dwindled significantly over the years while the cost of living has steadily risen.

There’s fear, anxiety, and shame around loans.

Different student populations are affected by increasing financial need disproportionately.

College may yield access to better jobs but for many it also requires working multiple part time jobs just to attend.

Federal financial aid shows its flaws since it “leads undergraduates to worry about the adverse side effects of their parents’ good fortunes” (5). For example, a parent receiving employment may decrease aid given to students, leaving them in a worse predicament.

Reflection

While reading the lengths CINNTS went through to attend college, I’m reminded how blessed I was for my opportunities. Even though I recall skipping a physical chemistry class for a painting gig that paid well and working around 30 hours a week one semester (the hardest of my undergraduate career), I didn’t have to sell a beloved horse or forgo my study abroad experience. I’m thankful. I’m really thankful that, for much of my academic career, I was able to focus on learning.

Also, chapter 10 can not come soon enough. Not because I want Paying the Price to end; instead I’m patiently awaiting the solutions that Sara will propose.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Paul Bergmeir via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2017 (Kindle Edition).
  2. Taylor et al., “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics,” 1. (as cited in Paying the Price).
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 1898 (Kindle Edition).
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2115 (Kindle Edition).
  5. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2446 (Kindle Edition).

To Pell Or Not To Pell, Paying The Price – Ch 3 Reflection

This chapter certainly stirred a bit of fire in me. In particular, I spent a lot of time wrestling with this ethical question about the current state of the Pell program:

Are we doing students from low-income families a service by funding part of their college expenses or a disservice by giving them false hopes? Is the Pell program a sound financial investment in the nation’s future, or is it a wasteful and ineffective program that allows students access to money–perhaps even enticing them to attend college and incur debt–without ensuring that they graduate from college? – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

Federal financial aid needs to be rethought. The fact that a Pell Grant only covered 23% of the cost of attendance for a public, 4-year college in 2012 suggests it’s ineffective. Attending college with this little funding is too much of a gamble. Either, federal financial aid needs increased or the whole financial aid system needs to be reimagined. To me, the best way to communicate this need to the public is to make it personal. For instance, in Paying the Price, Chloe Johnson’s story about paying for college is heartbreaking and a compelling example for why we should focus on building empathy with affected students and prioritize investing in financial aid.

Additionally, we should all be aware of the politically motivated demonization of Pell Grant recipients, which is quite upsetting I might add. (But I’m also sick of politically-motivated-anything at the moment.) First, I wholeheartedly agree with Sara that focusing on “Pell Runners” and not-supported-by-evidence “fraud” distracts from the real issues at hand. Not to mention the politicians who assert that since they were able to pay their way though college (years ago), today’s students must be “lazy.” To me, each of these perspectives dehumanizes the individuals reliant on federal financial aid and this lack of empathy is what troubles me. If our goal is to help students complete college and climb the socioeconomic ladder, we should embrace their experiences, needs, and solicit their feedback to get past these issues.

While I was brainstorming possible solutions this week I had a couple ideas. One way I’d like to see empathy spread about the experiences of Pell recipients is to provide an avenue for these students to submit feedback directly to policymakers. Whether there’s an online form or some kind of public blog to gather and share Pell recipients experiences. Alternatively, I was thinking of ways to foster relationships and gratitude between students and scholarship donors. I’m just throwing these ideas out there in their unrefined state because there may already be these programs and people pursuing such opportunities.

In any case, at the end of the day, we should be working to improve peoples lives through education with the full knowledge of this issue:

The Pell Grant clearly provides an incentive for students to attend college by discounting the price of attendance, but it comes nowhere close to making college affordable. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think about Sara Goldrick-Rab’s question: “Are we doing students from low-income families a service by funding part of their college expenses or a disservice by giving them false hopes?”
  2. How can we promote empathy of students’ Pell experiences?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Simon Stratford via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 67-68.
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 76-77.

Systems of Cost, Paying the Price – Ch 2 Reflection

Although this chapter provided some much needed context for the broader case of improving how we financially supporting college students, I’m not one that needs much convincing. I understand the needs and have even benefited from many of the mentioned financial aid sources.

My main takeaway from this chapter is how complex the systems currently are. In fact, I started to outline the factors that contribute toward the inaccuracies of the predicted cost of college:

Hand written notes showing different sources of cost inaccuracies for predicted costs of college.

I present these notes as a testament to the complexity of the current state of financial aid, but also to illustrate how I’ve been wrestling with ways to simply some of this information to make it more accessible to the public. My first idea was creating infographics from some of core ideas of Paying the Price. Here’s a quick mock-up as an example (note that I am not a designer):

Infographic that says "Rethink the Pell. Only covers 35% of public 4-year college. #payingtheprice"

My main hesitation with this plan is that I don’t want to distill away the value from the ideas presented in Paying the Price in favor of soundbites. That being said, I do see merit in infographics as a means to spread awareness, spark curiosity, and get more people thinking about the cost of college.

Recalling My Financial Aid

This chapter got me thinking about the financial aid I received to attend college. Specifically, I recall having firsthand experience with this problem:

If private aid is available, then state or federally supported aid (excluding the Pell) must be removed such that the cost of attendance is not exceeded. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

While I attended the University of Oklahoma I was a beneficiary of both Oklahoma’s Promise (I knew it as OHLAP) and Sooner Promise. I remember discovering this shortcoming in the financial aid system. Basically, I received a set amount of money from Oklahoma’s Promise/Sooner Promise that was composed from various scholarships and grants. However, if I applied and received scholarships on my own, these would funnel into the set amount of money I was guaranteed. In other words, I had to acquire scholarships in excess of the set Oklahoma’s Promise/Sooner Promise threshold to actually receive money. At the time, this was discouraging, and although I did apply for a few private scholarships, there wasn’t much of a point when such awards were absorbed by the system.

Even though I’m describing this shortcoming of the financial aid system, I do not wish to discredit the aid I received as it did enable me to attend university. Rather, I hope to offer a point of improvement where I envision students benefiting from all of scholarships they receive in addition to programs like Oklahoma’s Promise/Sooner Promise.

Discussion Questions

I’ve been reading blog posts from others who are currently studying Paying the Price and I felt inspired by the discussion questions that Bryan Alexander included in his reflections.

  1. What ways can we engage the community in the content from Paying the Price?
  2. For current financial aid systems where many students qualify but only some are selected to receive, how do we expand these programs? Should we expand these programs?
  3. If you were to redesign the financial aid systems, what would your ideal setup look like? How do we reach for this setup?
  4. What are your thoughts from the last two chapters of Paying the Price?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Juan Ramos via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 53.

Stories from Paying the Price – Ch 1 Reflection

“The democratic community cannot tolerate  a society based upon education for the well-to-do alone. If college opportunities are restricted to those in the higher income brackets, the way is open to the creation and perpetuation of a class society which has no place in the American way of life.” – The Truman Commission (1)

The reason I’m studying the rising cost of college costs is because, at the core, I want a classless society. By understanding and pursuing how to democratize higher education I hope to further this cause. But let’s start with something a bit lighter. 🙂

My favorite part of Chapter 1 was reading the introductions of Chloe, Ian, Tyler, Nima, Norbert, and Sophie (CINNTS). Their stories will likely be the most significant point of engagement for me while reading. Especially since I’m the same age and understand the value of need-based financial aid firsthand. I’m already a bit anxious about CINNTS stories because I want each of them to succeed, but knowing the book’s topics, I anticipate this will not be the case.

Since the stories of CINNTS are already rather compelling to me, I was thinking about ways to make their journeys more accessible to others. My initial thought would be to build a small choose-your-own-adventure Twine game where people would follow each of CINNTS stories and make choices that would impact their lives. To me, this could be a valuable resource in situations where time and the other topics from Paying the Price are inaccessible to the readers. For example, if you wanted to engage students in the rising cost of college through the stories from Paying the Price without diving into the specifics of Pell Grants. I haven’t committed to producing such a resource because it may be too large an undertaking for me to take on at the moment.

Some of the hard-hitting information from chapter 1 was a bit jarring to me. The current purchasing power of the Pell Grant, in particular, only covers about 35% of the price for a public 4-year college (2). I understand that is a significant amount of money, but it is clearly not enough to fund a student’s collegiate career. Being a product of state and university based aid, I’m dishearten by how many financial aid programs must be received in triplicate to actually cover the cost of college. In other words, only the students who acquire several types of financial aid can cover the full cost of college instead of being able to rely on the Pell Grant alone.

Thinking about higher education as a point of socioeconomic mobility has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. To me, a college degree yields access to more stable jobs and higher wages to reduce inequality but as Sara points out climbing the social ladder does not occur at an equivalent rate:

There is no guarantee, in other words, that college-educated people from low-income families will not be left behind. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

Alternatively:

People who grow up in economically fragile circumstances often continue to live in economically fragile communities, even after they attend college. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

This challenges what I “known” and expands how I need to be thinking about the benefits of college degrees, the price of college, and how to bear real, lasting change in the world. Since this is only the first chapter of Paying the Price, I’m rather excited to continue reading, reflecting, and writing these next several weeks!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Alex Read via Unsplash.


  1. President’s Commission on Higher Education, Higher Education for American Democracy, 2:23 (as cited in Paying the Price).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Figure 6.
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.