When he received his sophomore year financial aid package, Kevin Connell reacted as many UR students do, with shock and dismay at his lesser package. Unlike many University of Rochester students, however, Connell decided to start asking questions.
Why was the bill so high? How could college costs be rising so quickly? Were other students dealing with the same debt he was?
To answer that question, Connell embarked on a three year journey of research, ending with the creation of his own 80,000-word book, entitled “Breaking Point: The College Affordability Crisis and Our Next Financial Bubble.”
Though Connell is originally from Henrietta, his parents are principals in Penfield. Growing up in the public education system, Connell had the chance to interact with people from just about every cultural and socioeconomic background.
He said, “I grew up with a pretty diverse group of people, and I think it was a pretty healthy background for understanding average people.” When he received his acceptance letter to the University of Rochester during his senior year, Connell was more than a little excited to jump into the next great chapter of his life. He applied for financial aid and received a scholarship, and did not yet appreciate the financial impact of this new experience.
Yet, after arriving at UR, Connell quickly made friends with Professor Thomas Jackson, the former president of the university who would soon act as a mentor for the rest of his academic career and during the production of “Breaking Point.”
The stage was thus set for that sophomore year financial aid letter that sparked the interest in higher education cost that would soon consume much of his time.
At the beginning of his search, Connell came across what he identified as a primary reason for the spike in student loans and cost: the Sallie Mae Corporation. By reading Senate reports on the topic, he learned about the plight of those who were struggling to pay off the behemoth financial institution.
On the flip side, he read policy papers from people such as Thomas H. Stanton, who laid out the expansive deleterious effects on the higher education system that centered around Sallie Mae’s move to the private sector. Over the course of his research, Connell also began coming across other parts of the problem.
His initial view of Sallie Mae expanded into looking at the structural basis for the rising cost of college and then to the for-profit sector. In the end, only three chapters of the book ended up focusing on his original Sallie Mae topic.
As his subject matter expanded so did the scope of his project. His personal research assignment evolved into an unofficial independent study. From there, he began an accredited independent study on the topic with the Political Science department his junior year.
Looking to turn it into a thesis, Connell went back to the UR Department of Political Science, but was told that without some quantitative game theory work, they wouldn’t be interested. Given the amount of research he had and the text he already put to paper, Connell took his 80,000 words and started the publishing process.
Last summer, Connell and Jackson worked on polishing up the manuscript and finalizing it for the rigors of the publishing house review process.
In September, Connell sent his piece to four publishers. After being sent to publishers, the first round led to rejections. Some of these rejections came without further explanation, and others were because similar books had recently been published.
The rest of the semester was spent on papers, exams and law school applications. Now, he’s preparing to send out the book a second time, and it will include a foreward from Jackson to begin the book.
In the meantime, he’s touting the book to audiences at several venues in the area. He’s already talked to an audience of graduate and undergraduate students at the Warner School of Education, and in the next few weeks, he’s planning on presenting to students at St. John Fisher College with support from the Monroe County Democrats.
As for what he’s trying to get across to the public, Connell has large ambitions. “All in all,” Connell says, “the system is no longer sustainable; it never was. It has to do with recognizing what the job market demands, what’s feasible in the long run…and [that] if we don’t take action, the bubble’s going to pop.”
Altabet is a member of the class of 2017.