BookBrowse Reviews The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell

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The Debt Trap

How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe

by Josh Mitchell

The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell X
The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2021, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2022, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Eddie Bennett
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Josh Mitchell's The Debt Trap examines how runaway debt became common in the student loan industry.

The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell opens up the dialogue for meaningful conversations about a problem that many Americans face: student loan debt. The book surveys the history of the student loan industry and examines how it became the behemoth that it is today, starting with the governmental conception of the loan corporation Sallie Mae, which was initially meant to create a more defined path to the American Dream (see Beyond the Book).

Throughout the book, Mitchell offers endearing and heartbreaking stories of students from different parts of the country, all having financial issues related to obtaining a post-secondary education. For example, one student, Brandon, has family members who no longer speak to each other because of the burdens they have suffered in helping him get loans for school. Mitchell also explains how greed motivated the people who contributed to the unethical nature of the system that was supposed to help students like Brandon. Through a comprehensive history of Sallie Mae and its involvement in predatory marketing and other morally dubious practices, readers are taken on a journey that shows the beginning of the problem from multiple vantage points.

In navigating the complex story, Mitchell demonstrates the basic lack of understanding even some politicians have had on the subject of student loans. For example, during a 1981 hearing, a Democratic Senator from West Virginia was asked what she thought of Sallie Mae. Her response was, "Who is she?" This was pretty typical of the understanding of Sallie Mae and student lending among lawmakers at the time.

The Debt Trap introduces readers to some of the most important and well paid names in student loans, banking and government, all of whom received handsome incentives to not only continue a cycle of predatory behaviors towards unsuspecting and desperate victims, but to cultivate the growth of the industry to make it "too big to fail." This includes figures like Bill Ford, the first president of Sallie Mae, as well as Representatives Ed Fox and John Boehner.

The book also lifts the veil on the culpability and involvement of colleges and universities in the catastrophe that student loans have become. It details the lack of oversight and regulations that allowed colleges and universities to become predatory organizations that were focused less on the students they enrolled and more on the money they received from their enrollment.

Mitchell depicts practices of important people, and even more important institutions, who have been trusted with the futures of so many, only to destroy those futures for the sake of profiteering legitimized by government structures. One of the major concerns connected to the student loan industry has been the abuse of the endowment of resources. In one case, two brothers who ran a Florida school that offered training for travel-based careers enticed students to apply for loans that went directly to the school, and then used the money to boost their own incomes. Examples like these offer an important and less common narrative about the integrity of post-secondary educational institutions in the United States.

This book is a must-read if you have been to college, are thinking about going to college or even have never thought about going to college. Mitchell offers an extremely poignant and unflinching look at the mechanisms by which people's lives are turned into debt traps through the U.S. student loan industry.

Reviewed by Eddie Bennett

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2021, and has been updated for the September 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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