By Megan Mendenhall

November 14, 2023

When most people think of research, they often imagine scientists running around a lab filled with high-tech equipment, their white lab coats flapping behind them. But most scholarship happens behind a computer, as researchers analyze data, compose journal articles, connect with colleagues, apply for funding — and occasionally work on a book project.

Fenaba Addo is an associate professor in the Department of Public Policy within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. Her book, “A Dream Defaulted: The Student Loan Crisis Among Black Borrowers,” released in November 2022.

Provide a short synopsis of your book.

The book explores how Black student loan borrowers progress through college — and how the hardships they experience and the types of colleges they attend leave them with no choice but to borrow and keep borrowing to stay in school.

We then discuss what happens once these students leave college and start repaying their loans. We consider the consequences of educational debt for economic, psychological, and social wellbeing; show how student loan debt has made the transition to adulthood more fragile and precarious for Black youth; and explore the consequences of rising student loan debt for intergenerational inequality.

What inspired you to write this book? 

My co-author Jason Houle and I worked on this topic separately and together for many years. We realized that we had so much to say, and the journal article format — which is usually 35 to 45 pages — restricted our ability to expand on the topic. Often reviewers would comment that we were trying to cover too much and needed to streamline our papers. A lot of our cut passages ended up in the book.

To complement our quantitative analysis, our editor recommended speaking with borrowers. After speaking with them, we realized how important and necessary their stories were to the book.