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The Debt Trap

How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe

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From acclaimed Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Mitchell, the “devastating account” (The Wall Street Journal) of student debt in America.

In 1981, a new executive at Sallie Mae took home the company’s financial documents to review. “You’ve got to be shitting me,” he later told the company’s CEO. “This place is a gold mine.”

Over the next four decades, the student loan industry that Sallie Mae and Congress created blew up into a crisis that would submerge a generation of Americans into $1.5 trillion in student debt. In The Debt Trap, Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Mitchell tells the “vivid and compelling” (Chicago Tribune) untold story of the scandals, scams, predatory actors, and government malpractice that have created the behemoth that one of its original architects called a “monster.”

As he charts the “jaw-dropping” (Jeffrey Selingo, New York Times bestselling author of Who Gets in and Why) seventy-year history of student debt in America, Mitchell never loses sight of the countless student victims ensnared by an exploitative system that depends on their debt. Mitchell also draws alarming parallels to the housing crisis in the late 2000s, showing the catastrophic consequences student debt has had on families and the nation’s future. Mitchell’s character-driven narrative is “necessary reading” (The New York Times) for anyone wanting to understand the central economic issue of our day.

Thomas Cluderay

Josh Mitchell is a reporter in the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal, writing about the economy and higher education. In 2016, the Education Writers Association named him the nation’s top education beat reporter among large publications, calling his reporting “unique, comprehensive, illuminating, and a must-read for policymakers, prospective and current college students, and their parents.” He lives and works in Washington, DC.