Chapter 2Financial Hurdles in Pursuit of the American Dream

In a 2009 national back‐to‐school address to students, President Barack Obama said, “no matter what you want to do with your life—I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it.”1 My parents would take the President's advice a step further and say that an education is the key to achieving the American Dream.

Like many immigrant parents, mine made our schooling their priority. They worked hard to ensure that I received a quality education, actively participated in parent‐teacher conferences, and attended all my awards ceremonies. The rhetoric of education being the way out of poverty surrounded me through elementary school, high school, and college. This is reasonable, given the ample research demonstrating the significance of higher education in promoting economic mobility.2

However, what is less discussed are the financial hurdles intertwined with higher education—particularly for those from low‐income backgrounds aspiring to break into the middle class.3 These hurdles are even more pronounced for first‐generation students who are often the first in their families to attend college—everything from deciphering complicated financial aid forms, to understanding the options for financing your degree (e.g., loans, grants, scholarships), to figuring out how to cover costs beyond tuition (e.g., fees, books, cost of living expenses), to managing student debt after graduation. Achieving the American Dream to honor my parents’ ...

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