Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D.

Award-Winning Higher Education Expert

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D. is an award-winning education expert and the author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (University of Chicago Press). It is an Amazon best-seller, and has been featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, the New York Review of Books, and CSPAN’s Book TV, among other venues. Dr. Goldrick-Rab is a Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University and Founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s only translational research laboratory seeking ways to make college more affordable. A sought-after speaker, she has given talks for the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, United States Student Association, National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, SXSWedu, and for colleges, legislators, philanthropists, and business leaders across the country.

Many professional organizations and foundations have honored Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab for her work. In 2013, she was invited to testify before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Senators Tom Harkin and Lamar Alexander. In 2014, she received the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association, and in 2015 she graduated from the William T. Grant Foundation’s five-year-long Faculty Scholars program. In 2016, POLITICO Magazine named her one of the top 50 people shaping American politics.

Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s singular mission is to identify novel approaches to making higher education the accessible and affordable place that American families want and need it to be. She is recognized as one of the architects of President Obama’s free college proposal, America’s College Promise, and has helped craft state and federal legislation to lower the price of college across the country.

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab has evaluated dozens of interventions aimed at increasing college attainment among marginalized populations. She conducts both rigorous experimental research and in-depth qualitative studies aimed at capturing the real life stories of undergraduates and the faculty, staff, and administrators who serve them.

In Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream Dr. Goldrick-Rab proves in damning detail why the assumption that if a young person works hard enough, they’ll be able to get a college degree and be on the path to a good life is painfully untrue today. Quite simply, college is currently far too expensive for many people, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it. Drawing on an unprecedented study of 3,000 young adults who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008 with the support of federal aid and Pell Grants, Dr. Goldrick-Rab reveals the devastating effect of these shortfalls. She doesn’t merely identify the problem and its causes, she also lays out a number of possible solutions, including a public sector-focused “first degree free” program.

Dr. Goldrick-Rab is widely published in venues such as Educational Evaluation and Policy AnalysisSociology of EducationReview of Educational Research, and Teachers College Record, and co-edited a Harvard Education Press volume, Reinventing Financial Aid: Charting a New Course to College Affordability.

Praise for the Work & Lectures of Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

“One clear influence on the Obama plan is a proposal by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall, professors at the University of Wisconsin. They argue that the current financial aid system is broken, which explains why ‘students from high-income families who enter college are now six times more likely than those from low-income families to complete bachelor’s degrees by age 25.’ They instead advocate universal community college, with students freed from covering both tuition costs and living costs. Their proposal differs from Mr. Obama’s in some substantial ways, including the fact that they would redirect federal money currently being spent on financial aid at private colleges. Yet it’s also clear that White House officials devising their plan have thought about the Goldrick-Rab-Kendall plan.”

—David Leonhardt, The Upshot, New York Times

“Sara is outstanding in her mastery of complex and often controversial subject matter, and does a wonderful job of illuminating these issues for a broad audience.”

—Christopher Lubienski, Director, Forum on the Future of

Public Education, University of Illinois

“Sara Goldrick-Rab was a keynote speaker at the 2016 National Benchmarking Conference. Sara tailored her speech to the audience, presented new information, and kept the audience’s interest throughout her presentation.  A fascinating keynote with Sara’s vibrant personality and true devotion to the subject shining through.”

—Lou A. Guthrie, Ph.D., Director, National Higher Education

Benchmarking Institute

“Sara is bringing awareness to an important issue that has surfaced in higher education. Sodexo is proud to have worked with her to help spread the message.”

—Reid Nichols, Content Manager, Universities Operations Support, Sodexo

“The articulate blend of empirical research and advocacy Sara brought to her keynote address at OpenEd16 inflamed and inspired conference attendees. Her passion for helping students is infectious and I highly recommend her as a speaker.”

—David Wiley, Ph.D. Chief Academic Officer,

Lumen Learning, OpenEd 2016 Conference

“Sara gave engaging and thought-provoking talk—a data-driven approach blended with powerful individual stories. Her presentation stimulated minds, hit hearts, and has already prompted many conversations. Staff and advisors who work directly with young people struggling in the ways Sara discussed were especially inspired. Her research is raising awareness to this critical issue and giving voice to the young people, families, and future generations of families who are failed by the systems of higher education and financial aid. Sara deeply touched our organization.”

—Bob Giannino, CEO, uAspire

“Sara was a great addition to the 2016 SUNY Critical Issue in Higher Education Conference. Her expertise on the cost and affordability of a college education was an important contribution to the conversation at SUNYCON. She delivered her perspective in both a thorough and thought provoking way.”

—Johanna Kendrick-Holmes, Senior Coordinator for New York City

Special Events and Programs, The State University of New York

“Professor Goldrick-Rab made the complex challenges of college costs accessible and compelling. Her talk drew a diverse audience of students, university faculty members, community college faculty and financial staff members, and community members whose kids are headed to college.”

—Teresa Mangum, Professor and Director,

Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa

“Sara Goldrick Rab’s thoughtful, articulate, and provocative presentation at our recent conference received a rare standing ovation. It provoked conversation among our presidents and trustees that continues today.”

—Andrea Henderson, Executive Director
Oregon Community College Association

“Professor Goldrick-Rab is an inspiration; she utilizes her intellect and academic abilities to analyze and study the complex issues of college affordability and completion and is then able to translate them for all audiences. Perhaps most importantly she uses her skills and compassion to motivate others to make societal change. Our country is lucky to have her.”

—Maggie Brubaker, National Scholarship Providers Association Conference

“The research conducted by Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab has been a tremendous resource in helping me better understand the challenges students face in getting a fair shot at a college education, and what steps Congress can take to address them. Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s research and testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last year inspired me to introduce legislation to help working students and she was a trusted partner in developing the Working Student Act.”

—Senator Tammy Baldwin

“Sara Goldrick-Rab makes it a point to talk about college affordability with people all along the spectrum of political philosophy. ‘I have found thought partners wherever I can get them,’ she says. ‘I want my talk to be effective; therefore I have to talk to people who don’t think like me. It is thought-provoking, it is eye-opening, it makes me a better scholar.’”

—Pat Schneider, The Capital Times

“It was a great pleasure to have you visit with my first year education class at Lake State. I could tell you are an educator because you can just jump in and teach at a moment’s notice. You did a wonderful job of putting semi-complex ideas about funding policy into terms everyone understood. I thought it was great.”

—Barb Light, Lake Superior State University

“Sara Goldrick-Rab, or SGR, is an academic force. She is a powerful combination of brilliance, integrity and passion. It was an honor to take a class with her. Class requires tremendous critical thinking ability, but she really helps foster it (more so than any other class I’ve taken). However, prepare to read like you’re in law school.”


“My best professor at UW. Goldrick-Rab genuinely cares about her class and you can definitely tell. She wants you to contribute your ideas to discussion, and if you do that the class will go by quickly and you’ll learn more. Your ideas and thoughts are taken seriously as peers, and she is always available for a phone call. Always take her if you can.”


Praise for Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

Paying the Price is a must-read not only for policymakers but also for anyone wanting a better grasp of our nation’s college financial aid system.”

—Eduardo J. Padrón, recipient of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom, president and alumnus of Miami Dade College

“Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s narrative puts a face to the national higher education cost crisis. The students she profiles through her research represent thousands of individuals who pursue a degree in pursuit of social mobility and the American Dream, only to find themselves unable to make ends meet and often drowning in debt. By personalizing our country’s failed higher education policies, this book takes readers beyond national headlines and statistics and into individual lives. Goldrick-Rab’s scholarship fills a critical void in our conversations about the realities of financial aid policy in the face of rapidly rising tuition and important poignant reminder of the ongoing negative impact of state appropriation reductions in this era.”

—F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University

“Paying the Price is an urgent and necessary text. Through rigorous research and careful analysis, Sara Goldrick-Rab shows how the American Dream is structurally compromised by the exorbitant costs of higher education and a thoroughly dysfunctional financial aid system. With texture and subtlety, Goldrick-Rab spotlights the journeys of students whose road to educational access and social mobility is obstructed by the current crisis. Equally important, she offers a practical and progressive action plan for creating a more fair and just system.”

—Marc Lamont Hill, author of Nobody: Casualties of Americas War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond

“A hardworking group of young Americans is struggling with regular hunger, periodic homelessness, constant stress, and unrelenting exhaustion—all this while trying to master organic chemistry, business accounting, and British literature. Today’s college students face unprecedented costs to achieve undergraduate degrees. Many of these costs are not reflected on any balance sheet at the university’s financial aid office. Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid and the Betrayal of the American Dream offers the first truly comprehensive accounting of the toll extracted from a generation of middle and working class Americans who cannot possibly keep pace with the expense of attending college. Goldrick-Rab maps the landscape of America’s college affordability crisis and gives that crisis a human face. She shows us how the system crushes dreams and offers practical solutions for fixing the mess we have made. Goldrick-Rab argues, ‘The first step in addressing the college affordability crisis is taking the problem seriously.’ Anyone who is serious about addressing this crisis must read this book.”

—Melissa Harris-Perry

p style=”text-align: left;”>“Goldrick-Rab’s important book should be read by policymakers, students, and parents. She explains clearly how access to college has been narrowed by rising costs, how elected officials have dodged their responsibility to maintain access, and what we must do to save the American Dream—the promise that all have equal opportunity to succeed.”

—Diane Ravitch

“This cogent and persuasive argument for a more humane and efficient program to make higher education accessible to all capable students draws upon thorough research and an array of personal portraits. Highly recommended for parents and taxpayers.”

Library Journal (starred review)

“Bracing and well-argued, this study not only puts faces on the students who struggle to earn college degrees; it also serves as a warning that university study is rapidly becoming a privilege reserved for only the wealthy. Necessary reading for anyone concerned about the fate of American higher education.”

Kirkus Reviews