Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D.

Award-Winning Higher Education Expert

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D. is author of the award-winning book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, which documents the failures of policymakers and higher education institutions to make college affordable. Paying the Price was featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and won the $100,000 Grawemeyer prize, which Goldrick-Rab distributed to students around the country. Her innovative research on college students’ basic needs sparked the internationally-known #RealCollege movement, leading to federal and state legislation to address food and housing insecurity. To further support students, she also founded The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, and a national nonprofit called Believe in Students.

In 2016, POLITICO magazine named Goldrick-Rab one of the top 50 people shaping American politics. She earned a Carnegie Fellowship, a William T. Grant Foundation Faculty Scholars Award, the American Educational Research Association’s Early Career Award, and in 2021 she was named a Monumental Alumna by George Washington University.  Goldrick-Rab earned tenure and from 2004 – 2022 she held full professorships at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Temple University. Today she actively consults with many nonprofits and companies, including Edquity, where she applies her research to create a fast, humane, and equitable solution to emergency aid.

A sought-after speaker, Goldrick-Rab 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, TEDx Philadelphia, SXSWedu, and for colleges, legislators, philanthropists, and business leaders across the country.

Goldrick-Rab’s commitment to scholar-activism is evidenced by her broad profile of research and writing dissecting the intended and unintended consequences of the college-for-all movement in the United States. In more than a dozen experimental, longitudinal, and mixed-methods studies, she has examined the efficacy and distributional implications of financial aid policies, welfare reform, transfer practices, and a range of interventions aimed at increasing college attainment among marginalized populations. She provides extensive service to local, state, and national communities, working directly with governors and state legislators to craft policies to make college more affordable, collaborating with non-profit organizations seeking to examine the effects of their practices, and providing technical assistance to Congressional staff, think tanks, and membership organizations throughout Washington, DC.

For corporations, Goldrick-Rab speaks about “Creating the STEM Workforce You Want and Need.” In this talk she describes a key challenge undermining the production of STEM workers—high dropout rates from college among low-income students. She puts this challenge in the context of the new economics of college. Then, she discusses evidence on typical strategies for addressing this problem (merit based scholarships) and alternatives that appear more effective (need-based grants and addressing students’ basic needs). She offers inspiration and a pathway forward for companies looking to bring talented but truly overlooked students into their workforce.

Goldrick-Rab is widely published in venues such as Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Sociology of Education, Review 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. The American Educational Research Association bestowed its 2017 award for best research article on her study of financial aid and college employment. Goldrick-Rab and her work are featured in Hungry to Learn, a documentary by Geeta Gandbhir and Soledad O’Brien that shows the faces behind the American crisis of college student poverty, debt, hunger, and homelessness.

Praise for the Work & Lectures of Sara Goldrick-Rab, Ph.D.

“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

“Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab delivered an engaging and audience-savvy keynote address to over 800 corporate, philanthropic and civic leaders and scholarship recipients at our November 2018 fundraising  breakfast. I have had the good fortune of working with a number of content expert speakers but none has customized their speaking notes to include the work of the non-profit host organization as Sara did.  Her keynote clearly outlined the barriers college students face and concluded with focused comments regarding how our program is helping to reduce those barriers. Sara is a warm and personable speaker and I am delighted with the response her appearance generated.”

 —Erin Ashley, Development Director

Washington State Opportunity Scholarship

“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 is an outstanding speaker who provides a wealth of knowledge and critical analysis on the importance of college affordability as it relates to student needs and survival. She presents her own timely research and data on the financial barriers facing the majority of college students today and provides strategies for colleges and faculty to respond to this crisis in order to pave the way toward student success and achievement.”

—Angela Long, Ed.D., Director of Learning, Innovation, and Success

Division of Florida Colleges

“Sara’s visit to our campus underscored just how important our work is in creating an accessible and affordable path to higher education. UTEP has a long, proud history of providing access and excellence, but Sara’s remarks served as a catalyst for deeper, more creative, cross-campus ways to support under-resourced students.”

—University of Texas El Paso

“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

“Sara’s expertise made the Ecosystems of Support: Food and Housing Insecurity among College Students session an informative and inspirational opportunity for the Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors Network members, as they articulated in their evaluation survey. We are already seeing a movement of our cities discussing with local partners such as food banks, social service organizations and higher education institutions on how they can support student’s basic needs.”

—Audrey Hutchinson, National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education and Families

“Sara Goldrick-Rab keynoted, offering an excellent and helpful overview of research and recent interventions on student food and housing insecurity. . . She cited some horrifying statistics about student food and housing insecurity, but used humor and anecdotes to provide context. . . She highlighted a few, well, innovations worth copying. . . And she made the point—obvious, but worth saying—that emergency aid should be quick. . . Kudos to her for saying what needed to be said, and to the League for inviting her.”

—Matt Reed in Inside Higher Ed on Goldrick-Rab’s

The League for Innovation keynote

“Sara was knowledgeable and knew exactly who her audience was. She was personable and passionate—we were grateful for her expertise, forward thinking, and encouragement.”

—Tanya L. Kern, Senior Special Programs Manager
Council for Advancement and Support of Education [CASE]

“If you care even just slightly about the state of higher education in the United States, follow Sara. Seriously. Now. She is connecting the dots between broken components of society that have led to the current dysfunction. I had the honor of meeting Sara after her closing presentation at this year’s CASE Conference for Community College Advancement. Every day we see what she’s talking about on our campuses. Yet, she still left all of us more enlightened, inspired, and never more ready to help improve people’s lives through education.”

—Jennifer Strohl, Experienced Advancement Leader, Elgin Community College

“Sara Goldrick-Rab brings to life with clarity, urgency, and solid data, the failure of our systems to support the American Dream. The imperative for education and the necessity for all in our country to have access to it cannot be made clearer. A true crusader of equity, Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s message brings truth and solutions for how to get there.”

—Suzanne Johnson, President Green River College

“Sara really listened when we discussed the themes and goals for our conference. She included stories and connections to our audience throughout her talk that enabled our participants to better hear her messages. The success of her time with us was evidenced by the many times she and her talk were referenced during the following two days as our event unfolded. Sara established the perfect foundation for our event this year!”

—Tony Ellis, CAE, National Association of College Stores

“Sara was amazing and so moved all of us with her passion and knowledge. Faculty have even started an email conversation about our next steps. This is unprecedented. Usually they can’t wait to get out of a Professional Development session, but this was certainly not the case today.”

—Herkimer College

“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 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

“Sara had the students in the audience riveted with stories of real students with real financial struggles. She ended her presentation with a call to action that I’m sure KSC students will hear.”

—Keene State College

“We at EKU Chautauqua were 100% pleased with Sara Goldrick-Rab’s level of scholarship, energy, presentation style, and most importantly her level of engagement with our faculty and students. Sara did not just come ready to share her research and expertise, but was keen to learn from us (and Berea College) as well. Sara studied up on our school’s particulars prior to arriving at campus and so was ready to discuss the connections between her research and our situation, needs, next step options, etc. As coordinator of the series, I received many compliments and thanks for bringing her to campus.”

—Erik Liddell, Ph.D., Chautauqua Lecture Series Coordinator,

Eastern Kentucky University

“Dr. Goldrick-Rab is at the forefront of reimagining what higher education could be and should be based on a solid foundation of research and understanding of the students we serve. She invites educators, policy-makers, and the larger community to courageously identify and remove barriers to student success, so that all students have hope and a real path to translate hope into the promise of higher education and a better life.”

—Tacy L. Holliday, Ph.D., MPA, Director of Governance, Presidential Projects, and Institutional Initiatives, Montgomery College

“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 is a very dynamic speaker. . . .” “Sara gave a compelling presentation and raised a number of thought provoking questions. . . .” “Thank you to self-described scholar-activist and best-selling author of Paying the Price, Sara Goldrick-Rab for introducing us to the sobering facts about the cost of college persistence, expanding our knowledge on the subject, and leaving us with some hopeful strategies for improving outcomes for students.”

—Attendee reviews from Educate Philly, Philadelphia Education Fund

“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

Paying the Price is an invaluable resource, chock-full of data and empathy, to bring to that effort.”

Yes! Magazine

“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