Book Review: Debt-Free U


Tackling the college cost conundrum

A UMass senior believes families are needlessly taking on too much debt in hopes of giving their adult children a head start in life. Zac Bissonnette, author of Debt-Free U (2010, Portfolio | Penguin), shares how he has paid for his college education without scholarships, student loans or parental support, making a compelling case for other students to follow his lead.

Is Debt-Free U controversial as well as helpful? Yes, absolutely. But, it may provide just the guidance families need as they stare at tuition costs measured in the tens of thousands of dollars annually. Bissonnette’s case against debt goes beyond borrowing money, as he emphatically states that a degree from a prestigious university doesn’t matter as much as many people think.

Sacred Cows

Bissonnette goes after several higher education “sacred cows” including college rankings, calling them “sales tools for magazines and college guides” and for not offering particularly good insights on how to select a school. He also insists that community colleges can be a good place for students to start out, transferring to public universities for their last two years in order to secure their bachelor’s degree and save money.

Bissonnette is also an advocate of students working their way through school, offering evidence showing that this path doesn’t impact grades while also helping working students be much more marketable upon graduation. That advice certainly resonated with me as I worked my way through college with very little debt to manage afterward.

No Debt

Debt-Free U Highlights

  • Forward by Andrew Tobias
  • Sacred Cows Exposed
  • Ivy League Alternatives
  • Do Majors Matter?
  • Student Loan Dangers
  • Career Preparation
  • Job Satisfaction

Finishing college without debt is Bissonnette’s advice, something he insists can impact the graduates live their lives. When saddled with debt, such graduates may be forced down a career path not of their own choosing in order to make enough money to pay off their debt. Importantly, student debt can delay the purchase of a home, put stress on a marriage and keep grads from reaching their potential. Bissonnette also says that debt-saddled students are much less likely to pursue difference making jobs such as teaching, social work or advocacy if they are financially burdened.

So, should your student toss the Harvard application if they’re a good prospect for this Ivy League institution? No, but they shouldn’t be expected to pay full freight either. Lots of private schools are terribly expensive, but they’re well endowed financially. If the school picks up the lion’s share of the tab and you can afford what is leftover without going into debt, then go for it.

State Alternatives

On the other hand, a number of state universities offer an Ivy-equivalent education for far less money, especially if you choose an in-state school. Deciding you want to attend Ohio State University though you live in Vermont will prove to be a costly decision. Financial aid packages for state universities are generally reserved for in-state students, therefore if you live in Bennington, Montpelier or Burlington, then the University of Vermont is your choice.

Does Bissonnette make a compelling case for leaving college without debt? Yes, but don’t expect that to happen unless parents and students fully grasp the enormity of student loan debt and the impact it can have on everyone including parents as they save for retirement and students as they begin their working lives.

In Debt-Free U sacred cows are identified – it is up to everyone else decide whether to continue to worship before that altar.


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Categories: Book Reviews