Digging Out With Dignity: Solving the Student Loan Crisis and Honoring Meaning at the Margins
A Dignity + Debt Discussion Forum
Co-presented with The Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program
Hosted at Princeton University
Friday, October 18, 2019
On October 18, 2019 the Dignity + Debt Network and the Financial Security Program at the Aspen Institute convened a discussion on the student loan crisis. The event was free and open to the public, and it included journalists and other non-fiction writers as well as sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and representatives from think tanks and nonprofit advocacy organizations.
The meeting opened with reflections from Frederick Wherry, the Director of Dignity + Debt, on why student debt is central to the work of the Network: “In communities across the country and around the globe, parents take pride in announcing that their kid is going to college. Where I grew up in South Carolina, it was more than just an individual achievement. As a black kid, I was told that education was the one thing they couldn’t take away. Everything else, including my life, was up for grabs. We sacrificed for self-worth and respect. But we paid dearly for it.”
“As a black kid, I was told that education was the one thing they couldn’t take away. We sacrificed for self-worth and respect. But we paid dearly for it.” -@ProfessorWherry Tweet
While most of the day focused on the US student loan crisis, the discussion included a panel that compared experiences with students loans and fees across the globe. Participants examined what led to the 1.5 trillion student loan debt crisis, an amount larger than either auto loans or credit card debt. These examinations of what led to the debt and its consequences was followed by prescriptions for what to do about it. Most participants concluded that debt cancellation (which comes in many forms, as described in this report from the Aspen Institute) is both possible and necessary. Tressie McMillan Cottom, the recently named National Book Award Finalist for Thick and author of Lower Ed, brought together the need for upstream and downstream reforms, noting: “Student debt cancellation without higher ed reform won’t work. And higher ed reform debt cancellation won’t work either.”
“Student debt cancellation without higher ed reform won’t work. And higher ed reform without debt cancellation won’t work either.”-@tressiemcphd Tweet
Ida Rademacher from the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program noted that we needed to leverage the data and to go beyond it to activate empathy and inspire moral outrage. She encouraged the group to keep in mind not just how to understand but also how to explain and accelerate action.
“It takes more than understanding the issue of student debt. We have to get better at explaining and accelerating action.” -@idarademacher Tweet
And Alondra Nelson, president of the Social Science Research Council, reminded us all that the SSRC started in 1923 with the progressive belief that social science can do good in the world, and the Dignity + Debt Network lives out that mission by toggling between institutions and individuals, historical context and the dynamics of human agency. Only by going across and beyond disciplines and countries will we meet these challenges head on.
How Did Higher Ed Debt Become Impossible (for some) to Repay?
For some US borrowers, there is no crisis. For the majority, however, there seems to be no end to their sacrifice. Charlie Eaton noted that through an expansion of loans by the 1992 Higher Education Act reauthorization, student debts soared both in total amount of debt and per-student debt burdens. At the same time, per student cuts from state legislatures and the federal government required students to take on a larger share of the rising costs of education. Today, college is rarely debt free except for those from wealthy households who make up a disproportionate share of students at elite private institutions. Also aided by their schools' endowment wealth, only 21 percent of students borrow at all in their first year at the 20 most selective private colleges. Throughout the rest of the higher education system, most students now leave school with the disadvantages of debt. Educational debt is especially crushing for low-income students and studentsof color who have been targeted by for-profit colleges. In a system where the wealthiest 10 percent of colleges can shield their students from debt but the bottom 90 percent cannot, student debt has become a new system of stratification.“
“In a system where the wealthiest 10 percent ofcolleges can shield their students from student debt but the bottom 90 percent cannot, student loans havecreated new system of stratification.”–@CharlieEatonPhD Tweet
The JP Morgan Chase Institute issued a report on the 4.5 million individuals with Chase banking accounts making tuition payments. Fiona Greig, the Director of Consumer Research at the JPMC Institute, explained that low-income families are less likely to make consistent student loan payments and that the data suggests that there is a need for payment relief. Other work the Institute has done on income volatility suggests that the eligibility for that relief should be dynamic and calculated on a short-term basis.“
“After reviewing 4.5 million checking accounts of families makingtuition payments, I can say that the data suggests there is a need for payment relief. The eligibility for that relief should be dynamic andcalculated on a short-term basis.”–@FionaGreigDC Tweet
According to Jason Houle and Fenaba Addo, other data sources indicate that there are two student loan realities, a bimodal distribution. Houle explained, “We see that student debt is a crisis for black and brown borrowers, but it is less so for white borrowers. In fact, racial disparities are much bigger than social-class-of-origin disparities; black students leave college with almost double the debt of white students; and default rates are almost three times higher for black than white students. The default rate increases dramatically 10-15 years out of college.”
“Racial disparities > social-class-of-origin disparities; black studentdebt almost twice white debt; & black default rate X3 of white rate”-@jnhoule Tweet
Complicating the story is the finding that wealth is lower for Black families but it also does not protect blacks as much as their white counterparts from debt. Addo remarked, “Wealthy children are more likely to attend and graduate college and finish with less debt, but when you take race into account, that relationship doesn’t hold for black families.” Addo also explained that Black college grad have higher rates of un and under-employment and that they pay back their debts at a slower rate, holding other things equal.
“Wealthy children are more likely to attend and graduate college andfinish with less debt, but when you take race into account, thatrelationship doesn’t hold for black families.”-@FenabaAddo Tweet
What Do Others Do?
Looking at higher education financing around the world may provide some lessons for how we in the United States could improve our system. Jonathan Marcus, the higher education editor for the Hechinger Report, explained that his organization is a nonprofit that was created in response to the inability of large publications to cover education. He has traveled the world, looking at the experiences of Australia, Germany, Denmark, Chile, Norway, Iceland, South Africa, and a number of other countries. In other countries, there are powerful national student unions. There are also some surprises. Even where college is “free,” its uptake is not always high. As a journalist not based in these countries, Marcus relies on in-country expertise as he tries to translate their experiences into lessons for a US reading public.
Rekgotsofetse Chikane went into detail on the case of South Africa. As a student leader in the #FeesMustFall movement, he found himself hauled into court accused of treason because he and others stormed the Parliament, demanding the government honor the promises of equality made in 1994. Ironically, his father was charged with treason thirty years earlier for protesting Apartheid. Chicane’s book on the #FeesMustFall movement is now short-listed for South Africa’s Patton Prize.
“It doesn’t make much sense to tell people the only way out ofpoverty is a college degree, but the reason they can’t finish the classes is because they can’t afford the fees.”-@Kgotsi_Chikane Tweet
The debts and the fees get a different response from borrowers depending on how the debts are structured and where the borrowers live. Lorena Pérez-Roa observed how student debtors in Montreal differed from those she interviewed in Santiago. In the former, students saw the problem as one of individual responsibility and most of the family members did not know about their debt burdens. In the latter, the structure of the debt is what has made it impossible to repay. The debts have implicated family members because they are structured to require co-signers. In Chile, students saw themselves as victims of a defective system and they could clearly point to the political regime as blameworthy.
Felipe González-López explained that in Chile, they changed the conversation about debt, transforming it from an individual decision to a collective condition. They changed, “You are not a loan!” And at public assemblies, they structured the gatherings to play a therapeutic role to shift the blame from debtors to eh structures that burden them and the politicians who keep those structures in place.
“Remember, ‘You are not a loan!’ Stop talking about individual responsibility and start talking about how the loans were structured tobe nearly impossible to repay.”-@Felipe_socec Tweet
What Can Be Done?
According to Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, a reporter at the Washington Post, “Student debt takes a real toll on borrowers, even those who are repaying.” We see those who don’t repay, but we do not see those struggling to repay, wracked by anxiety, unable to save for anything else. We also don’t talk about the fact that the Department of Education hires collection agencies to collect on defaulted debts, and these agencies collect up to 20 percent in extra fees—for those already struggling, more burdens are added. Even borrowers in public service careers who thought that their debts would be forgiven after ten years have learned that a technicality may render nearly all of them ineligible to have the promise fulfilled. These are policy and enforcement choices, Douglas-Gabriel noted. We can choose better.
“Student debt takes a real toll on borrowers, even those who are repaying.”-@DaniDougPost economics of higher ed reporter for @washingtonpost Tweet
It would help to change the public narrative about who suffers and how. When students first graduate from college, Rachel Dwyer observed, they may be hopeful that they will land the right job and that they will be able to repay their debts. Over time, however, optimism wanes, along with their sense of mastery and self-esteem. We have nationally representative data that establishes this pattern, but these negative effects are not part of the national conversation.
How do we change the public’s understanding about why the debt has grown and what consequences it has wrought? Betsy Paluck pointed out, “Our minds respond better to stories than to a litany facts, so it is better to tell an incomplete story that is effective than a complete one that is not.” Eldar Shafir added that we have to stop looking to financial literacy to somehowhelp students make better decisions about how much debt to take on and how to manage repayment. “We have to realize that scarcity limits our cognitive abilities. Rather than change the ‘knowledge’ that individuals have, change the context that drowns them in debt; make the set of decisions they have to make clearer and less cluttered, remove obstacles to getting assistance, and employ empathy that empowers healthier behaviors.”
Jeff Himpele, director of the VizE Lab for Ethnographic Data Visualization, followed this discussion of changing the narrative with the announcement of the Network’s contest to create enduring, compelling images of these new narratives and the various forms of data and social facts underpinning them. Himpele made a direct link to the work of W.E.B. DuBois and recounted discussions a year ago with Wherry to pay homage to DuBois through rendering student loans and other debt data in the evocative visual style DuBois pioneered. From “The Problem of the Color Line” we have moved to “The Problem of Colored Lines” with our new gallery of visualizations on the inequities of student loan debt.
The Network’s new student loan debt calculator was launched. Unlike other debt calculators, this one allows an individual to see how changing amount paid per month or changing the interest rate would affect overall amounts repaid. It also shows the individual’s debt relative to the relative debt of others by racial/ethnic category. While the calculator focuses on helping individuals think about repayment costs, it also notes that “There are a number of policy changesthat could make a big difference to your debt burden. These calculators help you figure out what you might do now, bringing your own personal efforts together with larger public solutions.”
A New Agenda
Opening the discussion on what to do about student debt was Seth Frotman, who helped steer the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s efforts to protect student borrowers. Frotman resigned from the CFPB in 2018 as its Student Loan Umbudsman after he determined that the new direction of the bureau was to shield bad actors from scrutiny at the expense of borrowers.
“We need to fight the narrative that student loans are ‘good debt.’ That the loans are worth it. People are frustrated. They did what’s ‘right,’ but things still turned out badly.” -@sethfrotman5 Tweet
Frotman noted that we need to make sure people are not ripped off when they take out debt of any kind, but especially student loans. Currently, we are not using the normal tools to protect education borrowers that we would use for other loan products. Consequently, many people are getting rich off the plight of students, their co-signers, and their families.
Tressie McMillan Cottom warned, that the good/bad debt narrative is pernicious in public opinion and policymaking. We take higher education and its worth as an article of faith. As such, we are not having a data-driven argument anymore. When talking about debt, we activate ideas about welfare, handouts, the deserving, and the undeserving. If most Americans think that the responsibility for paying for college lies solely with the family and the student, the trillion-dollar figure or the history of how we got here won’t shock them into believing that something else needs to happen. We need to transform the story, bring back bankruptcy, and expand regulatory protections.
For Darrick Hamilton, this discussion requires us to ask what should be decided by market prices. We step in to say that people have a right to basic protections, especially during a natural disaster. We don’t let gas stations gouge people who are trying to flee a hurricane, for example. But we allow such rip-offs for people escaping poverty and for people pursuing opportunity. Therefore, we have to make this a narrative about right and wrong. We should not be talking about debt forgiveness—who sinned? We should be talking about economic rights and public investments.
“We need a race and gender conscious Economic Bill of Rights that learns and improves upon the New Dealversion. This time, instead of intentionally excluding blacks while benefiting whites, we can authentically ensure prosperity for all.” -@DarrickHamilton Tweet
What Happens Now
A Contest to Change the Narrative. The Dignity and Debt Network has launched a contest calling for data visualizations, maps, or short documentary films and photography that portray student loan debt. Works may depict the complex structural conditions of student debt or more personal experiences among debtors and their families. Submissions will be accepted until March 1, 2020. Details can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/y55ybtdlA
Data Gallery to Change the Narrative. As individuals or teams submit their data visualizationsto the contest, we will generate an open commons to share these visualizations. We expect the gallery to be a rich source of visual representations of student debt experiences from across the United States and the globe.
An Open Letter Calling for Debt Cancellation. We are now developing a “letter from concerned professors” about the wellbeing of the students we teach. This letter will circulate across universities in the United States, perhaps the Chronicle of Higher Education, and, if there is funding, in some major newspapers.
Emergent Collaborations. Our hope is that those who attended the discussion forum and othersacross our network will find areas for collaboration that are spontaneous and that might not havehappened had the network not drawn us all together. What makes the network useful is the extent to which it can catalyze cooperation and encourage the assembly of unorthodox collaborative teams.
Outcome Acceleration. Finally, we will follow-up with our co-presenters at The Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program and the Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative (EPIC) on how to amplify the conversation, the findings, and the ideas for change.
Fenaba Addo is the Lorna Jorgensen Wendt Assistant Professor of Money, Relationships, and Equality in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research examines the causes and consequences of debt disparities and wealth inequality with a focus on higher education and family relationships. Widely published in academic journals and policy outlets, her work on racial disparities in student debt sheds light on the ways that societal inequalities stem from historical legacies of racial exclusion and discrimination, and how they get reproduced over time. She is currently a visiting professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Rekgotsofetse Chikane (known as Kgotsi for those who are tongue-tied) is the author of “Breaking a Rainbow, Building a Nation: The Politics Behind the #MustFall Movements”. He currently works as a Lecturer of Public Policy at the University of Witwatersrand. He is a graduate of the University of Oxford, having completed his Master in Public Policy degree in 2017 and is currently completing his Masters in Management at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance with a focus on Decolonial development and complexity economics. He is a Mandela-Rhodes Scholar (2015), a recipient of the Mandela-Washington Fellowship (2016), Obama African Leader for 2019 and a South Africa Washington International Programme alumnus and Board Member. He was recognized as one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans (2016) and is the former national president of InkuluFreeheid. He was a part of both the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements in South Africa that demanded various social and economic reforms within the Higher Education system of the country such as decolonizing the curriculum, free decolonial education, and transforming spaces to be more inclusive, among others.
Tressie McMillan Cottom’s research and writing focuses on race, class, gender, education, and technology in the new economy and has been supported by the Microsoft Research Network’s Social Media Collective, the American Educational Research Association, and the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. In 2017, Tressie published her book Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy in which she has analyzed large data sets, scrutinized financial filings, and interviewed students and staff. The book questions the fundamental narrative of American education policy. Author Carol Anderson calls Lower Ed, “…brilliant. It is nuanced, carefully argued, and engagingly written.” In 2019, Tressie released a collection of essays titled Thick. The collection has been described as “essential,” and the Chicago Tribune calls Tressie, “the author you need to read now.” Tressie serves on dozens of academic and philanthropic boards and publishes widely on issues of inequality, work, higher education and technology. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in race and digital sociology as well as researches structural inequality, schooling, and labor outcomes. Tressie also co-hosts Hear to Slay with Roxane Gay, a podcast with an intersectional perspective on celebrity, culture, politics, art, life, love, and more. Tressie is a fan of many things but an uber fan of Dolly Parton, fancy coffee, brunch, nineties hip-hop, bacon, and the Delta blues. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Danielle Douglas-Gabriel covers student debt for The Washington Post. Danielle joined the national economy desk in July 2012 from Capital Business, a Post publication where she served as the local retail, hospitality and banking reporter. Before Capital Business, Danielle was the managing editor of Real Estate Forum, a commercial real estate trade magazine. Her writing has appeared in EbonyJet.com, the New York Sun and the New York Amsterdam News. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Rachel Dwyer is Professor of Sociology and Faculty Affiliate of the Institute for Population Research at The Ohio State University. She is a leading expert on credit, debt, and inequality in the United States. She runs “Debt Lab” with a group of OSU students studying how credit and debt relations reciprocally intersect structures of social inequality in the United States. She also studies the causes and consequences of social inequality more broadly, concentrating on growing economic inequality and insecurity across classes, including as connected to gender and race/ethnic disparities. Several core analytic principles unite her work across distinct social arenas: a relational understanding that inequality is produced by actors with distinct (often opposing) interests; a focus on the institutional rather than exclusively individual factors in inequality; and a commitment to the sociology and demography of discovery that requires careful attention to historical developments that may be unanticipated (and underdetermined) by theory, and which thereby force reconsideration of explanatory models. Her research into these issues has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the OSU Institute for Population Research through a grant from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and the National Endowment for Financial Education. Her published work has appeared in the American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Annual Review of Sociology, Social Science Research, Gender & Society, and Social Problems among other top academic outlets. She engages policy discussions about youth indebtedness with higher education leaders, public policy makers, financial professionals, and financial education specialists.
Charlie Eaton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California-Merced. His research investigates the role of politics and organizations in the interplay between economic elites and disadvantaged social groups, with a focus on the relationship between financialization and growing inequalities in U.S. higher education. Recent work in this area includes the consequences of private equity investment at for-profit colleges, and the historical development of the U.S. student loan system. He received his PhD in sociology from the University of California-Berkeley.
Seth Frotman is the nation’s leading expert on the intersection between higher education finance, consumer protection, and public policy. Seth previously served as Assistant Director and Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he led a government-wide effort to develop consumer-driven policy reforms and protect millions of Americans with student debt. Seth joined the CFPB as part of the Treasury Implementation Team as Senior Advisor to Holly Petraeus, Assistant Director for Servicemember Affairs. He has also worked on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Patrick Murphy (PA). Prior to his work on federal policy, Seth served as counsel for the New Jersey State Senate, where he worked on state-level consumer protection legislation. Seth’s work on behalf of student loan borrowers has appeared in national print publications and broadcast media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and The Washington Post. Seth received his JD from Indiana University School of Law and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.
Adam Goldstein is an Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the Department of Sociology and the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton University. He earned his PhD in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and was a Robert Wood Johnson Post-Doctoral Scholar at Harvard. His areas of interest include economic sociology, organizations, and social stratification. His current research examines the social consequences of financial capitalism in the contemporary United States. He is interested in how institutional changes associated with financialization have reshaped various socio-economic domains, and how organizations, communities and households respond to these changes in patterned (and often surprising) ways. His research has been published in the American Sociological Review, Socio-Economic Review, and The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Finance.
Felipe González López is a professor in the faculty of government at the Central University of Chile. His work focuses broadly on the political economy of capitalism, economic sociology, and social theory. Much of his work focuses on the financialization of the Chilean economy and on the use of credit and debt in Chilean social policy including in the areas of social welfare and higher education. He holds a doctorate in social sciences from the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany.
Fiona Greig is a Managing Director and the Director of Consumer Research at the JPMorgan Chase Institute, which delivers data-rich analyses and expert insights for the public good. She joined the Institute in 2014 after serving as the Deputy Budget Director for the City of Philadelphia for two years. From 2007 to 2012, Fiona was a consultant for McKinsey & Company where she consulted public and social sector clients on strategy, operations and economic development. In 2009 Fiona started and ran Bank on DC, a financial inclusion program for the District of Columbia. Fiona has published research on topics including household finance, healthcare, labor markets and the Online Platform Economy, gender, and behavioral decision making. Her work has been widely cited in the media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and CNBC. Fiona has held adjunct professor appointments at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University and holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard University.
Darrick Hamilton is the Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. In addition, Professor Hamilton holds a primary faculty appointment in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, with courtesy appointments in the departments of economics and sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Professor Hamilton is a pioneer and internationally recognized scholar in the field of stratification economics which fuses methods to examine the causes, consequences and remedies of racial, gender, ethnic, tribal, nativity, etc. inequality in education, economic and health outcomes. This work involves crafting and implementing innovative routes and policies that break down social hierarchy, empower people, and move society towards greater equity, inclusion, and civic participation Professor Hamilton was born and raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY, and now resides in Columbus, OH. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of North Carolina. He is frequently cited in the media, consults with various public official and serves as an advisor to/fellow with several non-profit and think tank organizations.
Jeffrey Himpele directs the Anthropology Department’s VizE Lab, a unique hub of scholarship and resources for combining person-centered ethnography, including documentary filmmaking, with the tools of data visualization. Jeff is author of Circuits of Culture: Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in the Andes, a book based on years of field research in La Paz, Bolivia. His prize-winning ethnographic and documentary films have been recognized by the American Anthropological Association and the Royal Anthropological Institute. Incidents of Travel in Chichen Itza was named as one of the 50 most important films for teaching anthropology. His current work in progress is Men of Steel, a musical documentary on the adventures of the steel guitar sound from its beginnings in Hawaii to the honky-tonks of country music and beyond. He holds a PhD from Princeton.
Jason Houle is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Dartmouth College. His research primarily focuses on processes of social stratification and mobility in the United States, and the social determinants of health and mental health across the life course. In much of his current work he asks how rising indebtedness and access to credit has impacted inequalities in social, economic, and psychological well-being in the United States. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography from The Pennsylvania State University in 2011; and was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at The University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2011-2013.
Jon Marcus is higher-education editor at the Hechinger Report and North America correspondent for the Times (U.K.) Higher Education magazine. He has also written about higher education for Time, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other magazines, newspapers, and websites, and contributed to the book Reinventing Higher Education. Marcus holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from Bates College, attended Oxford University, and teaches journalism at Boston College and Northeastern University.
Katherine Lucas McKay is a Program Manager at the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program (FSP), currently working on the Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative’s (EPIC) initiative on consumer debt. Katherine is an experienced policy researcher and advocate in the fields of economic inequality and financial inclusion, and has worked on issues including foreclosure prevention, mortgage lending, retirement savings, credit reporting, access to safe and affordable financial products and services, and safety net policies. Prior to joining FSP, Katherine was the Associate Director of Government Affairs at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, where she led the organization’s policy work on homeownership, entrepreneurship, and consumer financial protection. She has also held positions at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and Georgetown University. Katherine holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Information Systems and a BA from Wellesley College.
Betsy Levy Paluck is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her research is concerned with the reduction of prejudice and conflict, including ethnic and political conflict, youth conflict in schools, and violence against women. She uses large-scale field experiments to test interventions that target individuals' perceived norms and behavior about conflict and tolerance, including mass media and peer-to-peer interventions. Professor Paluck is a 2017 Macarthur Fellow, and has been the recipient of the Sage Young Scholars award, the Cialdini Award for field research, and an Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association.
Lorena Pérez-Roa is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Chile and a researcher with Chile’s Millennium Initiative on Authority and Power Asymmetries. Her research focuses on debt acquisition processes and their drivers, the socioeconomic and financial practices of individuals and their families, and the financialization of the daily life. In her publications, Dr. Pérez-Roa has analyzed the drivers and consequences of college loan debt by investigating economic arrangements within young debtor couples and the strategies they use to meet basic needs (including family assistance and improvised entrepreneurship). The research is based on the experiences of young adults from Santiago, Chile and Montreal, Canada. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of Chile, a masters’ degree in anthropology from the University of Chile, and a doctoral degree from the University of Montreal.
Ida Rademacher is a vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Aspen Financial Security Program (FSP). Her efforts have resulted in the creation of several new cutting-edge initiatives at Aspen, including the Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative (EPIC), the Reconnecting Work and Wealth Initiative, and the Aspen Leadership Forum on Retirement Savings. Through these projects Ida and her team are building a cross-disciplinary community of leaders who, together, are deeply probing critical financial challenges facing U.S. households and shaping market and policy innovations that can improve the financial security and financial well-being of all Americans. Ida has testified on numerous occasions before Congress and contributes regularly to news and commentary on consumer financial issues in outlets including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Politico and public radio’s Marketplace. A resident of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and an avid horseback rider, Ida is the first generation in her family to attend college. She pursued postgraduate studies in economic anthropology at the University of Melbourne, Australia; holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Maryland; and a Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology and economics from James Madison University.
Eldar Shafir is the Class of 1987 Professor of Behavioral Science and Public Policy, the Inaugural Director of Princeton’s Kahneman-Treisman Center for Behavioral Science and Public Policy, and co-founder and scientific director at ideas42, a social science R&D lab. He studies decision-making, cognitive science, and behavioral economics. His recent research has focused on decision-making in contexts of poverty and on the application of behavioral research to policy. He is Past President of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making, Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on the Future of Behavioural Sciences. He was a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. He has received several awards, most recently a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the William James Book Award. He was named one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013, and elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He edited a book called “The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy,” (2012), and co-authored, with economist Sendhil Mullainathan, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” (2013). He received his B.A. from Brown University and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Frederick Wherry is the Townsend Martin, Class of 1917 Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and the director of the Dignity and Debt Network, a partnership between Princeton University and the Social Science Research Council. For the 2019-2020 academic year he is a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 2019 he authored Credit Where It’s Due: Rethinking Financial Citizenship (with Kristin S. Seefeldt and Anthony S. Alvarez) and edited The Oxford Handbook of Consumption (with Ian Woodward). In 2020 he will publish Measuring Culture, co-authored with eight collaborators, including the late John Mohr. He is the author or editor of six other books. He serves in an advisory capacity to the Boston Federal Reserve’s Community Development Research Advisory Council and the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business at the University of Birmingham’s Business School in the United Kingdom. He also serves as a director on the board of the Financial Clinic and as a participant in the Aspen Institute’s EPIC initiative (Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative). He and Jennifer Lena edit a book series at Stanford University Press called Culture and Economic Life, and he tweets @ProfessorWherry