Elizabeth Tandy Shermer on Student Loans and Higher Education Financing

Cover: Indentured Students in HARDCOVER

It’s Fall and that means it’s also “Back to School.” The 2021-2022 school year, like the 2020-2021 school year, has already been a challenging one accompanied by heated debates over school mask mandates, vaccines, and other safety-related measures. At the same time, many universities and colleges, including my own, are struggling financially, facing declining enrollments and not enough government support. That has left students and parents with a steep bill to pay, often with the help of creative financing (i.e. loans).

Many of the problems facing institutions of higher ed and students predate the pandemic, although Covid-19 has certainly exacerbated the situation by prompting many students to put-off or forego college entirely, and/or forcing colleges to take on the high costs associated with testing, just to name a few examples. The situation has led some to demand a New Deal for Higher Education.

Media portrayals and popular misconceptions aside, concerns about the cost of higher education and how to pay for it are in fact nothing new. In this month’s episode, historian Elizabeth Tandy Shermer reveals how government officials, institutions, and bankers have sought to address the question of higher education financing starting in the Great Depression and moving into the second half of the twentieth-century. In doing so, she explains the policy decisions and politicking that gave rise to the current situation in which many institutions are struggling financially, while students and their parents are often the ones left to pay the bill largely with loans.

Check out the episode here!

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer is Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. Her most recent book is Indentured Students: How Government-Guaranteed Loans Left Generations Drowning in College Debt. She is also the author of Sunbelt Capitalism: Phoenix and the Transformation of American Politics (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), editor of Barry Goldwater and the Remaking of the American Political Landscape (University of Arizona Press, 2013), and co-editor, with Nelson Lichtenstein, of The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, and Imagination (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).


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