A Dream Defaulted

A Dream Defaulted: The Student Loan Crisis Among Black Borrowers

Contrary to popular opinion, the student debt crisis is not a consequence of frivolous or unwise spending decisions on the part of young people seeking undergraduate degrees. In this important book, Houle and Addo demonstrate that structural rather than individual factors have produced the current emergency. Houle and Addo not only examine the racialized scope and impact of the student debt crisis but also provide recommendations for pathways out of the catastrophe.

About the book

Authors Jason N. Houle and Fenaba R. Addo offer a deft analysis of the growing financial crisis in education, examining its sources and its impacts. Based on more than five years of ongoing qualitative and quantitative research, this incisive work illustrates how the student loan system has not benefited all students equally. The authors tell the story of how first-generation college students, low-income students, and students of color are disadvantaged in two opposing phases of the process: debt accumulation and debt repayment. They further demonstrate that policies intended to mitigate financial burden and prevent default have failed to assist the people who most need help.

Houle and Addo present these social and racial disparities within a broader context, tracing how centuries of institutionalized racism have contributed to social and economic inequities, perpetuating the racial wealth gap and leading to intergenerational inequality. Through interviews with borrowers, the authors illuminate the ways in which racial disparities affect who has college access, how and why people take on debt, and who has the ability to repay student loan debt after leaving college.

Recognizing that the affordability crisis cannot be solved by higher education reform alone, the authors consider solutions. They argue that policy must extend beyond debt reduction and financial aid to address entrenched patterns of racial inequality and racial discrimination, both inside and outside institutions of higher education.


Fenaba R. Addo is a Cook Center faculty affiliate and an associate professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Jason N. Houle is an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College.

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