Local author calls attention to student debt


After setting up a scholarship program at Davidson College in North Carolina, a Del Mar resident wrote a book to warn about the perils of student debt and call for more scholarship programs to make higher education more accessible.

“It’s become my passion to establish scholarships so that kids that otherwise couldn’t afford to go to college could get a college education,” said Scott MacDonald, who first moved to Del Mar in 2006, and returned in 2013 after several years in Australia.

MacDonald’s book, “Education Without Debt,” was released by Indiana University Press. It is his third book, but first on student debt.

The cover of "Education Without Debt" by Scott MacDonald

After a corporate career, MacDonald wanted to turn his attention to setting up scholarship programs at multiple colleges and universities. He said he was inspired by the students he met along the way, particularly low-income students who are especially burdened by the costs of higher education.

“Just seeing how they are progressing through school caused me to think that there is an issue here that needs a lot more attention,” said MacDonald, whose MacDonald Scholars Program now operates at five colleges and universities. “I can only do so much. The country needs to do a lot more because the crisis in student debt is just out of control.”

He added that he “wanted to shine a light on the problem” through the book, which took about three years to write.

Since 2004, the amount of student loan debt in the United States has ballooned from about $250 billion in 2004 to approximately $1.5 trillion in 2020, according to the Brookings Institute. And according to 2019 research by the Pew Research Center, about 33% of adults under age 30 have student debt. Many prospective college students who would need to take on debt to complete their degrees are also forced to decide whether the degree is worth the long-term debt.

Author Scott MacDonald

The book delves into statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other data about why student loan debt grew to an unprecedented level. It also includes personal stories.

MacDonald said he hopes it will inspire more scholarship programs for the students who could benefit the most.

“It’s not a how-to-get-a-loan book,” MacDonald said. “It’s how did society get into a space where students are excessively burdened by debt and they cannot participate in the economy to the extent that would be desirable and lives are impacted potentially forever.”

“Education Without Debt: Giving Back and Paying it Forward” is available online. For more information about MacDonald and his work, visit macdonaldscholars.com.