Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Interview With Author Cryn Johannsen

Solving the Student Loan Crisis: Dreams, Diplomas & A Lifetime of Debt

1.      What inspired you to write your book?
There were several things that inspired me to write Solving the Student Loan Crisis: Dreams, Diplomas & a Lifetime of Debt. First, I was on my way to becoming a professor, so I spent a lot of time in academia. The topic of student loan debt came up often. I myself am also a debtor, something I talk about openly in the beginning of the book. In fact, my student loan debt, at least in part, led to the demise of my marriage, one that lasted close to 10 years. But the topic also relates to my beliefs and commitment to social justice.

When I left academia, I went into publishing, and shortly thereafter, I launched a blog called, All Education Matters. This blog was originally intended to help me stay connected to academia and explore all sorts of intellectual ideas (hence the reason behind its name). However, shortly after I launched the blog or right around that time the banks were bailed out by the US government. There was a lot of public outrage, as many here will recall. So, a lot of people began asking, “Well, if the banks were bailed out, what about students, too?” This is part of what inspired me to begin exploring student loan debt, and that opened a huge can of worms.

2.      What is it about?
The book is about the student loan debt crisis in the US. I provide a history of how it all began, documenting how higher education used to not only be affordable but in some cases free. I start with the GI Bill in 1944 that was implemented after soldiers returned from WWII. The government took a huge risk by investing in millions of Americans and their educations, and it paid off. But as time passed, investing in Americans, in terms of funding their education, has gone in the opposite direction – the marker I begin with is when President Reagan took office. Since that time there has been a total disinvestment in higher education, and the cost of that has been placed on students and taxpayers. I trace the rise of the student lending industry, and discuss how it relates to the US government (politicians as well as the Department of education) as well as universities (for-profits and non-profits). All three of these institutions are culprits in creating this disastrous problem.

Let me break it down: 43 million Americans are burdened with student loan debt. Outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion, and that figure just continues to grow. There is no other country, particularly industrialized, wealthy countries that have this sort of problem. In fact, in places like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and so forth, higher education is essentially free. But our system has been perverted by becoming a “consumer good,” and the notion of education as a public good has been lost by the collective imagination. This is the result of Higher Ed, Inc, as I call it, and the finacialization of debt. While a few in, for example, the student lending industry are profiting, millions of Americans are finding that their lives are being ruined, and only because they pursued higher education. Something needs to change for those of us with burdened with debt, as this is hurting the overall economy. So, even those Americans who don’t have student loan debt should be concerned about the student loan crisis.

      3.  What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
It is my hope that people will overcome the shame of carrying this debt around – this is critical. We all must begin to start having conversations about our debt and what sort of role it plays in our personal lives. This sort of openness can lead to action, and it is my hope that action will lead to people getting involved in direct and creative ways to combat the crisis. In addition, it is my hope that people consider the role of politics in this crisis, and how voting for the right candidates can have a direct impact on bringing about change we deserve.

       4.  What advice do you have for writers?
That’s a great question! My answer is this – write, write, write. Write even when you think what you’re writing is terrible. Write every single day. No matter what! Your car has broken down? Write. Your boyfriend or girlfriend has broken up with you, or you’re having some sort of interpersonal problems? Write. You are struggling financially or having a tough time at your job? Write. And then after you write, write, write, you must edit, edit, edit! Write and edit – do this endlessly. That is my best advice to writers. It is a long battle. It took me 3 years to finish this book, and the outcome was not what I expected. But this work, I can say, I am so proud of it.

        5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
I think it is being tailored to micro audiences. In addition, the Internet continues to play a huge role in the book publishing industry. The traditional book publishing industry is struggling, so if you want to get published, consider other alternatives.
         6.  What challenges did you have in writing your book?
I hit a wall close to the end. I was more in the editing phase. I mean, I was still writing, but was in a rewriting phase, and I was just completely and utterly exhausted and burned out on the topic. I’ve been writing about the student loan crisis for close to a decade. I didn’t have the enthusiasm and steam that I had when I first began writing about the topic. That’s normal. So, I had to figure out ways to get back into the topic, meaning to find that interest and passion and love for it – that wasn’t easy. I think that’s when discipline really had to come into play. I’ll be honest, writing a book isn’t fun. It actually sucks the majority of the time. You doubt the quality of what you’re writing. You doubt you’ll be able to finish it. You have so much self-doubt. And there are so many platitudes out there that make it seem like writing a book is such a romantic thing to do. But it isn’t at all. It is the furthest thing from this romantic ideal many of us have when we think of writers sitting down to write. It is isolating, frustrating, tough work.
With all that said, when I held the final copy in my hand, the physical copy, I never felt prouder. It was such a battle getting it done, with so many twists and turns, and there it was – my book – in my hands! So, while I said writing a book sucks, it is well-worth it. I plan on doing it again. I guess I am a glutton for punishment!

        7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
Look, like I said above, 43 million Americans have student loan debt. Roughly 1 in 8 Americans owe student loan debt. I would wager that 1 in 6 Americans are impacted by student loan debt. That is a huge number of people. In addition, it’s multi-generational. Parents with student loan debt now have children burdened with student loan debt. There is also the mental health side to this crisis that no one has discussed – I am the only one who has explored it, and I detail it at length in my book. There is a direct correlation between depression and financial distress. I have also documented suicides. One suicide, frankly, is too many, and there has been more than one suicide. So, the emotional toll that this is taking on individuals is tremendous. You combine that toll with how it hurts their families, their communities, and so forth – this crisis is just catastrophic. I want people to be aware of how bad it is, but at the same time, I want people to be aware that they are not alone and that there are solutions that can be implemented now to solve it for current debtors.

About The Author:
Cryn Johannsen has been a leading voice on this issue and an advocate for students for over a decade. Her new book Solving the Student Loan Crisis: Dreams, Diplomas & A Lifetime of Debt is a revealing examination of the problem—its causes and its possible solutions.  Cryn has authored numerous articles for Huffington Post, The New England Journal of Higher Education, The Guardian, USA Today,, Money Crashers, and others. She has appeared on CNN, Headline News, and been interviewed by NPR, The Wall Street Journal Radio, among many other outlets. This book is the result of her six years of study and research into the crisis and her ideas concerning solutions.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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