Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities

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Overview

"Crossing the Finish Line is a must-read for anyone concerned with the disturbing fact that Americans can no longer count on each generation being better educated than the last. Focusing on public institutions that educate more than three-fourths of U.S. students, Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson provide compelling arguments that institutions and policymakers must find new ways to overcome deeply entrenched patterns if our country is to regain its position as the most educated."—Molly Corbett Broad, president, American Council on Education

"Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have provided a long-needed overview of public higher education. Even though public colleges and universities educate a high fraction of all undergraduates in this country, very little significant research has been undertaken about this sector. The authors have completed a massive project containing data that will guide the future of public higher education for decades to come. This book should be carefully read and studied by every higher education leader in this country."—E. Gordon Gee, president, Ohio State University

"Addressing an issue that will determine America's leadership role in the world, Crossing the Finish Line should be at the top of everyone's reading list. Innovative and accessible data analyses illuminate all the important factors that determine who achieves the American dream now, and who might do so in the future, if we provide the help so many students desperately need."—William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions, Harvard University

"The twenty-one outstanding flagship state universities studied in this important book are vital for the future of higher education and the quality of our skilled labor force. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson carry out a sophisticated analysis of the students who enter these universities, those who graduate, and the measurable effects of their education in between. Anyone interested in higher education will want to keep this book at hand."—Robert M. Solow, Nobel Prize-winning economist

"Given rising pressure on state budgets, public higher education must learn to do more with less. Crossing the Finish Line illuminates anachronistic practices, such as an overreliance on test scores in admissions, continuing tuition subsidies to higher income families, and an underemphasis on degree completion. For the nation's economic future and the dreams of tomorrow's college aspirants, we must fundamentally rethink the function, pricing, and operation of public colleges."—Thomas J. Kane, Harvard Graduate School of Education

"Crossing the Finish Line is a timely, compelling, and insightful analysis of the challenges of college completion in the United States. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have done an extraordinary job of analyzing and synthesizing data that leads to the inescapable conclusion that far too many of the nation's low-income, first generation, and minority students—the future backbone of our workforce—are not graduating from college. In the modern world, a postsecondary degree or credential is not just nice; it's absolutely necessary for our economic and social prosperity as a nation. This book makes a clear case for getting the right information, the right amount of financial assistance, and the right support to students who otherwise might make the wrong choice—or worse, no choice at all."—Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer, Lumina Foundation for Education

"Crossing the Finish Line provides a new and rich source of data. Highly original, the book is by far the most detailed examination ever made of the socioeconomic factors that go into explaining differential rates of public college attendance and completion."—David W. Breneman, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia

"This comprehensive, accessible, and valuable book examines college completion and noncompletion at a group of public colleges and universities. The authors have assembled remarkable data characterizing the background and college experiences of students at these schools, and make a major contribution to our understanding of public higher education institutions."—Jesse Rothstein, Princeton University

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Mathematical Association of America
Among its many accomplishments, this book documents the fact that college completion depends on more than financial means and intellectual ability.
— David Bressoud
Daytona News-Journal
A wealth of fresh insights and research.
— Mark Harper
New York Times
Identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and [Crossing the Finish Line] tries to do precisely that. . . . For all the book's alarming statistics, its message is ultimately uplifting—or at least invigorating. . . . Crossing the Finish Line makes it clear that we can do better.
— David Leonhardt
Nature
Crossing the Finish Line serves as a wake-up call to educators and administrators, and provides valuable data that will help universities to invest their resources in nurturing the talents of all their students. It also provides a disturbing glimpse of the far-reaching effects of limited expectations and diminished educational opportunities.
— Devorah Bennu
Science Magazine
The most comprehensive look yet possible at the determinants of graduation rates—and what might be done to improve them. Bowen and McPherson are economists and bring economists' sensibilities and methods to their subject. Much of the book uses regression analysis to assess the impact of various factors on college completion (e.g., socioeconomic status, financial aid, and institutional selectivity) after adjusting for other factors such as students' high-school grades and test scores. Individual chapters deftly summarize what is known about each topic and then often extend that knowledge substantially. . . . The book provides new and often surprising insights on other major determinants of college completion. The chapters on financial aid, in particular, are masterful. . . . Crossing the Finish Line exemplifies the best that social science research has to offer: rigorous empirical analysis brought to bear on a major public policy issue. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have provided an essential resource that both researchers and policymakers will consult for years to come.
— Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser
Inside Higher Ed.com

The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities—and the need to be precise about them.
— Scott Jaschik

Chronicle of Higher Education
Among the book's central themes: Large disparities exist in graduation rates by gender, ethnicity, and family income, even after accounting for differences in standardized test scores and high-school preparation. That is not exactly news, but the book grounds those findings in an unusually rich set of data. . . . Mr. Bowen and his colleagues put forward two arguments that are likely to fuel debate for several years. . . . The first argument is that money matters. . . . The second argument is that admissions offices should downplay the SAT and ACT, and instead lean heavily on students' high school grades. . . . The tuition and SAT debates are, of course, evergreens of education policy, and they might still be running long after everyone who reads this article is dead. But some of the most provocative sections of Crossing the Finish Line have to do with a third, less familiar debate: Why, exactly, are graduation rates stronger at selective colleges?
— David Glenn
Journal of College Student Development
The authors of Crossing the Finish Line have done a masterful job of introducing multiple concepts and combining their presentation of complex issues into a well organized text which not only paints a clearer picture of college completion in American public universities, but also gives significant attention to major findings from their research in each chapter. This book has truly established itself as one of the most impressive collections of analyses and discussions from a massive higher education dataset and should therefore be required reading for current students and added to the personal libraries of the entire higher education community.
— Toyia K. Younger
Associated Press Staff
While the findings might eventually inform students choosing colleges, the more immediate audience is policy-makers and educators. Bowen's previous data-driven work, on affirmative action and college athletics, has been hugely influential. Again with this project, he and his co-authors gained access to information allowing them to track thousands of individual students over time. The findings paint a grim picture of wasted opportunities, but also suggest even relatively modest efforts to provide students more information and encouragement could substantially 'increase social mobility and augment the nation's human capital.'
— Justin Pope
NACADA Journal
This book is highly recommended to anyone who wants to be in touch with the latest literature and trends in student retention and persistence at the national level.
— Joshua L. Brittingham
Diversity Web
Full of important information about who succeeds in American public education, this book is a key contribution to the literature on who graduates, what they study, and what circumstances seem to support or impede their success.
Harvard Educational Review
Crossing the Finish Line is a trenchant and revealing look at the success of America's public universities in graduating all students. . . . Using a data set of twenty-one flagship institutions and four public state systems, the authors are able to answer heretofore confounding questions about who is graduating from college, when they are doing it, where this is happening, and possible reasons why some students graduate while others do not.
— Kolajo Paul Afolabi
Higher Education Journal
While I most highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in higher education policy issues in general, and college graduation in particular, higher education researchers and analysts will find this book to be particularly useful as a springboard to other relevant studies focusing on issues such as the effect of high-tuition/high-aid policy or in-depth analysis on the issues related to over-matched and under-matched students.
— Dongbin Kim
Education Review
Professionals across the board, including researchers, administrators, educators, and policy makers will find Crossing the Finish Line informative and compelling, and will be able to apply the findings of Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009) to their own endeavors.
— Lynette O'Keefe
Continuing Higher Education Review
Do not come to this volume faint of heart. This is a book so full of ideas, research, and implications for practice that it is not an easy read. It must be absorbed over time, and digested in a manner that allows the reader to pull together all the facets of its very rich panoply. However, approached in this way, it will be deeply rewarding. Not only will the reader be better informed but also prepared to develop a course of action that will make the United States and our colleges and universities much better places for our young to grow and achieve their potential.
— Dean Kay Whitla
Journal of Human Capital
In the course of reading this work, I found it to be an inspiring book. It aims to answer big questions with important consequences for our future. It was written by scholars who care deeply about how the market for higher education works and the role that universities play in producing human capital. Their knowledge on the subject and their grasp of the literature are truly remarkable. For these reasons, policy makers and researchers working on the market for higher education or on the transition from high school to college will certainly learn a lot from this book.
— Flávio Cunha
Inside Higher Ed..com
The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities—and the need to be precise about them.
— Scott Jaschik
Inside Higher Ed....com
The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities—and the need to be precise about them.
— Scott Jaschik
New York Times - David Leonhardt
Identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and [Crossing the Finish Line] tries to do precisely that. . . . For all the book's alarming statistics, its message is ultimately uplifting—or at least invigorating. . . . Crossing the Finish Line makes it clear that we can do better.
Nature - Devorah Bennu
Crossing the Finish Line serves as a wake-up call to educators and administrators, and provides valuable data that will help universities to invest their resources in nurturing the talents of all their students. It also provides a disturbing glimpse of the far-reaching effects of limited expectations and diminished educational opportunities.
Science Magazine - Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser
The most comprehensive look yet possible at the determinants of graduation rates—and what might be done to improve them. Bowen and McPherson are economists and bring economists' sensibilities and methods to their subject. Much of the book uses regression analysis to assess the impact of various factors on college completion (e.g., socioeconomic status, financial aid, and institutional selectivity) after adjusting for other factors such as students' high-school grades and test scores. Individual chapters deftly summarize what is known about each topic and then often extend that knowledge substantially. . . . The book provides new and often surprising insights on other major determinants of college completion. The chapters on financial aid, in particular, are masterful. . . . Crossing the Finish Line exemplifies the best that social science research has to offer: rigorous empirical analysis brought to bear on a major public policy issue. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have provided an essential resource that both researchers and policymakers will consult for years to come.
Journal of College Student Development - Toyia K. Younger
The authors of Crossing the Finish Line have done a masterful job of introducing multiple concepts and combining their presentation of complex issues into a well organized text which not only paints a clearer picture of college completion in American public universities, but also gives significant attention to major findings from their research in each chapter. This book has truly established itself as one of the most impressive collections of analyses and discussions from a massive higher education dataset and should therefore be required reading for current students and added to the personal libraries of the entire higher education community.
Inside Higher Ed.com - Scott Jaschik
The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities—and the need to be precise about them.
Chronicle of Higher Education - David Glenn
Among the book's central themes: Large disparities exist in graduation rates by gender, ethnicity, and family income, even after accounting for differences in standardized test scores and high-school preparation. That is not exactly news, but the book grounds those findings in an unusually rich set of data. . . . Mr. Bowen and his colleagues put forward two arguments that are likely to fuel debate for several years. . . . The first argument is that money matters. . . . The second argument is that admissions offices should downplay the SAT and ACT, and instead lean heavily on students' high school grades. . . . The tuition and SAT debates are, of course, evergreens of education policy, and they might still be running long after everyone who reads this article is dead. But some of the most provocative sections of Crossing the Finish Line have to do with a third, less familiar debate: Why, exactly, are graduation rates stronger at selective colleges?
Associated Press - Justin Pope
While the findings might eventually inform students choosing colleges, the more immediate audience is policy-makers and educators. Bowen's previous data-driven work, on affirmative action and college athletics, has been hugely influential. Again with this project, he and his co-authors gained access to information allowing them to track thousands of individual students over time. The findings paint a grim picture of wasted opportunities, but also suggest even relatively modest efforts to provide students more information and encouragement could substantially 'increase social mobility and augment the nation's human capital.'
Mathematical Association of America - David Bressoud
Among its many accomplishments, this book documents the fact that college completion depends on more than financial means and intellectual ability.
Daytona News-Journal - Mark Harper
A wealth of fresh insights and research.
NACADA Journal - Joshua L. Brittingham
This book is highly recommended to anyone who wants to be in touch with the latest literature and trends in student retention and persistence at the national level.
Harvard Educational Review - Kolajo Paul Afolabi
Crossing the Finish Line is a trenchant and revealing look at the success of America's public universities in graduating all students. . . . Using a data set of twenty-one flagship institutions and four public state systems, the authors are able to answer heretofore confounding questions about who is graduating from college, when they are doing it, where this is happening, and possible reasons why some students graduate while others do not.
Higher Education Journal - Dongbin Kim
While I most highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in higher education policy issues in general, and college graduation in particular, higher education researchers and analysts will find this book to be particularly useful as a springboard to other relevant studies focusing on issues such as the effect of high-tuition/high-aid policy or in-depth analysis on the issues related to over-matched and under-matched students.
Education Review - Lynette O'Keefe
Professionals across the board, including researchers, administrators, educators, and policy makers will find Crossing the Finish Line informative and compelling, and will be able to apply the findings of Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009) to their own endeavors.
Continuing Higher Education Review - Dean Kay Whitla
Do not come to this volume faint of heart. This is a book so full of ideas, research, and implications for practice that it is not an easy read. It must be absorbed over time, and digested in a manner that allows the reader to pull together all the facets of its very rich panoply. However, approached in this way, it will be deeply rewarding. Not only will the reader be better informed but also prepared to develop a course of action that will make the United States and our colleges and universities much better places for our young to grow and achieve their potential.
Journal of Human Capital - Flavio Cunha
In the course of reading this work, I found it to be an inspiring book. It aims to answer big questions with important consequences for our future. It was written by scholars who care deeply about how the market for higher education works and the role that universities play in producing human capital. Their knowledge on the subject and their grasp of the literature are truly remarkable. For these reasons, policy makers and researchers working on the market for higher education or on the transition from high school to college will certainly learn a lot from this book.
Journal of Human Capital - Flávio Cunha
In the course of reading this work, I found it to be an inspiring book. It aims to answer big questions with important consequences for our future. It was written by scholars who care deeply about how the market for higher education works and the role that universities play in producing human capital. Their knowledge on the subject and their grasp of the literature are truly remarkable. For these reasons, policy makers and researchers working on the market for higher education or on the transition from high school to college will certainly learn a lot from this book.
From the Publisher
"Crossing the Finish Line is a trenchant and revealing look at the success of America's public universities in graduating all students. . . . Using a data set of twenty-one flagship institutions and four public state systems, the authors are able to answer heretofore confounding questions about who is graduating from college, when they are doing it, where this is happening, and possible reasons why some students graduate while others do not."—Kolajo Paul Afolabi, Harvard Educational Review

"While I most highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in higher education policy issues in general, and college graduation in particular, higher education researchers and analysts will find this book to be particularly useful as a springboard to other relevant studies focusing on issues such as the effect of high-tuition/high-aid policy or in-depth analysis on the issues related to over-matched and under-matched students."—Dongbin Kim, Higher Education Journal

"Professionals across the board, including researchers, administrators, educators, and policy makers will find Crossing the Finish Line informative and compelling, and will be able to apply the findings of Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009) to their own endeavors."—Lynette O'Keefe, Education Review

"Do not come to this volume faint of heart. This is a book so full of ideas, research, and implications for practice that it is not an easy read. It must be absorbed over time, and digested in a manner that allows the reader to pull together all the facets of its very rich panoply. However, approached in this way, it will be deeply rewarding. Not only will the reader be better informed but also prepared to develop a course of action that will make the United States and our colleges and universities much better places for our young to grow and achieve their potential."—Dean Kay Whitla, Continuing Higher Education Review

"In the course of reading this work, I found it to be an inspiring book. It aims to answer big questions with important consequences for our future. It was written by scholars who care deeply about how the market for higher education works and the role that universities play in producing human capital. Their knowledge on the subject and their grasp of the literature are truly remarkable. For these reasons, policy makers and researchers working on the market for higher education or on the transition from high school to college will certainly learn a lot from this book."—Flvio Cunha, Journal of Human Capital

New York Times

Identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and [Crossing the Finish Line] tries to do precisely that. . . . For all the book's alarming statistics, its message is ultimately uplifting--or at least invigorating. . . . Crossing the Finish Line makes it clear that we can do better.
— David Leonhardt
Associated Press Staff

While the findings might eventually inform students choosing colleges, the more immediate audience is policy-makers and educators. Bowen's previous data-driven work, on affirmative action and college athletics, has been hugely influential. Again with this project, he and his co-authors gained access to information allowing them to track thousands of individual students over time. The findings paint a grim picture of wasted opportunities, but also suggest even relatively modest efforts to provide students more information and encouragement could substantially 'increase social mobility and augment the nation's human capital.'
— Justin Pope
Mathematical Association of America

Among its many accomplishments, this book documents the fact that college completion depends on more than financial means and intellectual ability.
— David Bressoud
Chronicle of Higher Education

Among the book's central themes: Large disparities exist in graduation rates by gender, ethnicity, and family income, even after accounting for differences in standardized test scores and high-school preparation. That is not exactly news, but the book grounds those findings in an unusually rich set of data. . . . Mr. Bowen and his colleagues put forward two arguments that are likely to fuel debate for several years. . . . The first argument is that money matters. . . . The second argument is that admissions offices should downplay the SAT and ACT, and instead lean heavily on students' high school grades. . . . The tuition and SAT debates are, of course, evergreens of education policy, and they might still be running long after everyone who reads this article is dead. But some of the most provocative sections of Crossing the Finish Line have to do with a third, less familiar debate: Why, exactly, are graduation rates stronger at selective colleges?
— David Glenn
Nature

Crossing the Finish Line serves as a wake-up call to educators and administrators, and provides valuable data that will help universities to invest their resources in nurturing the talents of all their students. It also provides a disturbing glimpse of the far-reaching effects of limited expectations and diminished educational opportunities.
— Devorah Bennu
Science Magazine

The most comprehensive look yet possible at the determinants of graduation rates--and what might be done to improve them. Bowen and McPherson are economists and bring economists' sensibilities and methods to their subject. Much of the book uses regression analysis to assess the impact of various factors on college completion (e.g., socioeconomic status, financial aid, and institutional selectivity) after adjusting for other factors such as students' high-school grades and test scores. Individual chapters deftly summarize what is known about each topic and then often extend that knowledge substantially. . . . The book provides new and often surprising insights on other major determinants of college completion. The chapters on financial aid, in particular, are masterful. . . . Crossing the Finish Line exemplifies the best that social science research has to offer: rigorous empirical analysis brought to bear on a major public policy issue. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have provided an essential resource that both researchers and policymakers will consult for years to come.
— Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser
NACADA Journal

This book is highly recommended to anyone who wants to be in touch with the latest literature and trends in student retention and persistence at the national level.
— Joshua L. Brittingham
Journal of College Student Development

The authors of Crossing the Finish Line have done a masterful job of introducing multiple concepts and combining their presentation of complex issues into a well organized text which not only paints a clearer picture of college completion in American public universities, but also gives significant attention to major findings from their research in each chapter. This book has truly established itself as one of the most impressive collections of analyses and discussions from a massive higher education dataset and should therefore be required reading for current students and added to the personal libraries of the entire higher education community.
— Toyia K. Younger
Harvard Educational Review

Crossing the Finish Line is a trenchant and revealing look at the success of America's public universities in graduating all students. . . . Using a data set of twenty-one flagship institutions and four public state systems, the authors are able to answer heretofore confounding questions about who is graduating from college, when they are doing it, where this is happening, and possible reasons why some students graduate while others do not.
— Kolajo Paul Afolabi
Education Review

Professionals across the board, including researchers, administrators, educators, and policy makers will find Crossing the Finish Line informative and compelling, and will be able to apply the findings of Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009) to their own endeavors.
— Lynette O'Keefe
Inside Higher Ed.com

The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities--and the need to be precise about them.
— Scott Jaschik
Daytona News-Journal

A wealth of fresh insights and research.
— Mark Harper
Diversity Web

Full of important information about who succeeds in American public education, this book is a key contribution to the literature on who graduates, what they study, and what circumstances seem to support or impede their success.
Higher Education Journal

While I most highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in higher education policy issues in general, and college graduation in particular, higher education researchers and analysts will find this book to be particularly useful as a springboard to other relevant studies focusing on issues such as the effect of high-tuition/high-aid policy or in-depth analysis on the issues related to over-matched and under-matched students.
— Dongbin Kim
Continuing Higher Education Review

Do not come to this volume faint of heart. This is a book so full of ideas, research, and implications for practice that it is not an easy read. It must be absorbed over time, and digested in a manner that allows the reader to pull together all the facets of its very rich panoply. However, approached in this way, it will be deeply rewarding. Not only will the reader be better informed but also prepared to develop a course of action that will make the United States and our colleges and universities much better places for our young to grow and achieve their potential.
— Dean Kay Whitla
Journal of Human Capital

In the course of reading this work, I found it to be an inspiring book. It aims to answer big questions with important consequences for our future. It was written by scholars who care deeply about how the market for higher education works and the role that universities play in producing human capital. Their knowledge on the subject and their grasp of the literature are truly remarkable. For these reasons, policy makers and researchers working on the market for higher education or on the transition from high school to college will certainly learn a lot from this book.
— Flávio Cunha
Chronicle of Higher Education
Among the book's central themes: Large disparities exist in graduation rates by gender, ethnicity, and family income, even after accounting for differences in standardized test scores and high-school preparation. That is not exactly news, but the book grounds those findings in an unusually rich set of data. . . . Mr. Bowen and his colleagues put forward two arguments that are likely to fuel debate for several years. . . . The first argument is that money matters. . . . The second argument is that admissions offices should downplay the SAT and ACT, and instead lean heavily on students' high school grades. . . . The tuition and SAT debates are, of course, evergreens of education policy, and they might still be running long after everyone who reads this article is dead. But some of the most provocative sections of Crossing the Finish Line have to do with a third, less familiar debate: Why, exactly, are graduation rates stronger at selective colleges?
— David Glenn
Science Magazine
The most comprehensive look yet possible at the determinants of graduation rates—and what might be done to improve them. Bowen and McPherson are economists and bring economists' sensibilities and methods to their subject. Much of the book uses regression analysis to assess the impact of various factors on college completion (e.g., socioeconomic status, financial aid, and institutional selectivity) after adjusting for other factors such as students' high-school grades and test scores. Individual chapters deftly summarize what is known about each topic and then often extend that knowledge substantially. . . . The book provides new and often surprising insights on other major determinants of college completion. The chapters on financial aid, in particular, are masterful. . . . Crossing the Finish Line exemplifies the best that social science research has to offer: rigorous empirical analysis brought to bear on a major public policy issue. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have provided an essential resource that both researchers and policymakers will consult for years to come.
— Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser
Inside Higher Ed.com
The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities—and the need to be precise about them.
— Scott Jaschik
Library Journal
Three expert authors—two are past college/university presidents—have produced an important and insightful analysis of a major issue for contemporary America. They clearly describe the worrisome stagnation in rates of college completion and the imbalance in completion rates that particularly impact African American and Hispanic men, along with low-income students. The study builds on a major effort collecting and analyzing extensive new data sets, as well as careful reading of related studies. The authors effectively explain the seriousness of the issue; their new approach, which identifies the causative factors; and their recommendations for improving the situation, which would require attention and resources but is still feasible. The focus here is on public universities, both highly selective and less selective, since these institutions educate the greatest proportion of students. VERDICT The authors succeed in portraying the problem and its solutions in a dense, evidence-based study, a complex yet well-structured and readable work that is essential for those interested in higher education and public policy.
Associated Press
While the findings might eventually inform students choosing colleges, the more immediate audience is policy-makers and educators. Bowen's previous data-driven work, on affirmative action and college athletics, has been hugely influential. Again with this project, he and his co-authors gained access to information allowing them to track thousands of individual students over time. The findings paint a grim picture of wasted opportunities, but also suggest even relatively modest efforts to provide students more information and encouragement could substantially 'increase social mobility and augment the nation's human capital.'
— Justin Pope
David Leonhardt
Identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and [Crossing the Finish Line] tries to do precisely that. . . . For all the book's alarming statistics, its message is ultimately uplifting--or at least invigorating. . . . Crossing the Finish Line makes it clear that we can do better.
— New York Times
Devorah Bennu
Crossing the Finish Line serves as a wake-up call to educators and administrators, and provides valuable data that will help universities to invest their resources in nurturing the talents of all their students. It also provides a disturbing glimpse of the far-reaching effects of limited expectations and diminished educational opportunities.
— Nature
Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser
The most comprehensive look yet possible at the determinants of graduation rates--and what might be done to improve them. Bowen and McPherson are economists and bring economists' sensibilities and methods to their subject. Much of the book uses regression analysis to assess the impact of various factors on college completion (e.g., socioeconomic status, financial aid, and institutional selectivity) after adjusting for other factors such as students' high-school grades and test scores. Individual chapters deftly summarize what is known about each topic and then often extend that knowledge substantially. . . . The book provides new and often surprising insights on other major determinants of college completion. The chapters on financial aid, in particular, are masterful. . . . Crossing the Finish Line exemplifies the best that social science research has to offer: rigorous empirical analysis brought to bear on a major public policy issue. Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson have provided an essential resource that both researchers and policymakers will consult for years to come.
— Science Magazine
Scott Jaschik
The authors are emphatic that the United States cannot improve overall educational attainment unless there are significant changes in public higher education. . . . One of the major themes of the book is of the importance of disparities--and the need to be precise about them.
— Inside Higher Ed.com
David Glenn
Among the book's central themes: Large disparities exist in graduation rates by gender, ethnicity, and family income, even after accounting for differences in standardized test scores and high-school preparation. That is not exactly news, but the book grounds those findings in an unusually rich set of data. . . . Mr. Bowen and his colleagues put forward two arguments that are likely to fuel debate for several years. . . . The first argument is that money matters. . . . The second argument is that admissions offices should downplay the SAT and ACT, and instead lean heavily on students' high school grades. . . . The tuition and SAT debates are, of course, evergreens of education policy, and they might still be running long after everyone who reads this article is dead. But some of the most provocative sections of Crossing the Finish Line have to do with a third, less familiar debate: Why, exactly, are graduation rates stronger at selective colleges?
— Chronicle of Higher Education
Justin Pope
While the findings might eventually inform students choosing colleges, the more immediate audience is policy-makers and educators. Bowen's previous data-driven work, on affirmative action and college athletics, has been hugely influential. Again with this project, he and his co-authors gained access to information allowing them to track thousands of individual students over time. The findings paint a grim picture of wasted opportunities, but also suggest even relatively modest efforts to provide students more information and encouragement could substantially 'increase social mobility and augment the nation's human capital.'
— Associated Press
Elizabeth Hayford
An important and insightful analysis of a major issue for contemporary America. . . . The authors succeed in portraying the problem and its solutions in a dense, evidence-based study, a complex yet well-structured and readable work that is essential for those interested in higher education and public policy.
— Library Journal
David Bressoud
Among its many accomplishments, this book documents the fact that college completion depends on more than financial means and intellectual ability.
— Mathematical Association of America
Mark Harper
A wealth of fresh insights and research.
— Daytona News-Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691149905
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 774,394
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

William G. Bowen is president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University. Matthew M. Chingos is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a research associate at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Michael S. McPherson is president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Preface xiii
Chapter 1. Educational Attainment: Overall Trends, Disparities, and the Public Universities We Study 1
Chapter 2. Bachelor's Degree Attainment on a National Level 20
Chapter 3. Finishing College at Public Universities 32
Chapter 4. Fields of Study, Time-to-Degree, and College Grades 57
Chapter 5. High Schools and "Undermatching" 87
Chapter 6. Test Scores and High School Grades as Predictors 112
Chapter 7. Transfer Students and the Path from Two-Year to Four-Year Colleges 134
Chapter 8. Financial Aid and Pricing on a National Level 149
Chapter 9. Financial Aid at Public Universities 166
Chapter 10. Institutional Selectivity and Institutional Effects 192
Chapter 11. Target Populations 207
Chapter 12. Looking Ahead 223
Appendix A. The Modern Evolution of America's Flagship Universities by Eugene M. Tobin
239
Notes 265
List of Figures 337
List of Tables 347
List of Appendix Tables 349
References 357
Index 377

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    Posted January 25, 2010

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