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Mathematical Association of AmericaAmong its many accomplishments, this book documents the fact that college completion depends on more than financial means and intellectual ability.
— David Bressoud
The United States has long been a model for accessible, affordable education, as exemplified by the country's public universities. And yet less than 60 percent of the students entering American universities today are graduating. Why is this happening, and what can be done? Crossing the Finish Line provides the most detailed exploration ever of college completion at America's public universities. This groundbreaking book sheds light on such serious issues as dropout rates linked to race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
Probing graduation rates at twenty-one flagship public universities and four statewide systems of public higher education, the authors focus on the progress of students in the entering class of 1999—from entry to graduation, transfer, or withdrawal. They examine the effects of parental education, family income, race and gender, high school grades, test scores, financial aid, and characteristics of universities attended (especially their selectivity). The conclusions are compelling: minority students and students from poor families have markedly lower graduation rates—and take longer to earn degrees—even when other variables are taken into account. Noting the strong performance of transfer students and the effects of financial constraints on student retention, the authors call for improved transfer and financial aid policies, and suggest ways of improving the sorting processes that match students to institutions.
An outstanding combination of evidence and analysis, Crossing the Finish Line should be read by everyone who cares about the nation's higher education system.
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
"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, New York Times
"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, Nature
"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, Science Magazine
"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, Journal of College Student Development
"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
"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, Chronicle of Higher Education
"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, Associated Press
"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."—Elizabeth Hayford, Library Journal starred review
"Among its many accomplishments, this book documents the fact that college completion depends on more than financial means and intellectual ability."—David Bressoud, Mathematical Association of America
"A wealth of fresh insights and research."—Mark Harper, Daytona News-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, NACADA Journal
"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."—Diversity Web
"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."—Flávio Cunha, Journal of Human Capital
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
List of Figures 337
List of Tables 347
List of Appendix Tables 349
Posted January 25, 2010
No text was provided for this review.