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Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities Paperback – Feb 27 2011

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Interesting Topic - Lots of Statistics June 4 2012
By JoLynn - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Suggests that we need to do a better job of matching students to the most challenging programs that they are suited for, and that this will result in higher graduation rates."
9 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Please study a more important question May 24 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The most interesting implication of this book to me is one the authors do not state: If the United States succeeds in increasing the % of citizens who attend AND graduate from college, the wage premium for college graduates will decline. The wage premium is rising largely because high-end universities are not growing enrollment, ensuring a supply/demand imbalance. High achievers capture a disparate share of the degree-wage premium. And the bulk of those high achievers come from a short list of "name" universities that get first pick of students. Do America's top 100 universities have any interest in growing the number of educated Americans? Hardly. Their pace of enrollment growth has been glacial for many decades.

The authors briefly argue against diminishing returns, citing anecdotal studies but not confronting the larger numbers that would be involved if they got their wish. This book carries on the attitude of the more, the better, because it's all about trying to understand why the % of students who finish college is not going up. It's stuck at 50%--45% for public schools, 55% for private.

The authors don't want that diminishing-returns debate, for they are fixated on the persistence of social and economic inequality. Their massive statistical analysis of the incoming class of 1999 shows that if your parents were poor and didn't attend college, you have a low chance of finishing college in six years regardless of your high school record. People in the top quartile of incomes have a better than 50/50 chance of getting a bachelor's degree by age 26; only about one in 10 from the poorest 25% of US families did so.

Inequality is reinforced by state flagship universities' increasingly selective admissions. The book samples UCLA, North Carolina and Virginia from 1974 to 2006; over that span the % of new students with >3.5 high school GPA rose from 55% to 90%. A similar move appeared in three other not-so-elitist flagship schools. Students from households in the top 25% of incomes are greatly overrepresented at these schools.

The authors miss the obvious explanation. Take UCLA. From '74 to '06 its undergraduate enrollment grew at a CAGR of 0.6%, less than half the rate of US population growth.

Our economy is fixated on hiring the best graduates of the same old list of schools, where the best faculty are hoarded. A smaller and smaller % of college students get to see them.

College participation is rising, rising fast in fact, but the completion rate isn't. It likely will fall due to a spike in the % of high school grads entering college, influenced by the recession's destruction of entry-level jobs.

This book is focused on the freshman class of 1999, which entered school half a year before the top of the Internet bubble. At this time, 55% of the age 18-19 population was employed, and their official unemployment rate was 12%. From the high school class of '99, the BLS tells us 63% immediately went to college (two or four-year). This was a generational low, equaled in fall 2000. Not coincidentally, the US unemployment rate dipped below 4% in 2000. Jobs were easy to get.

In fall 2009, 37-38% of the age 18-19 population was employed, and their official unemployment rate was as high as 26%. A full 70% of '99 high school grads went to college, highest on record. With a jobless rate of 10%, the labor market was ugly.

The book studies the graduation rate of the '99 class over a six-year period, on the veiled assumption that six years is long enough. Over a recession, of course, six years isn't long enough for people of limited economic means. And all they can tell is whether these students graduated from these schools--not how many had to transfer to lower-cost schools and finished there. Not how many finished in more than six years.

The Student Clearinghouse recently reported that 49% of 2005-06 college graduates finished in no more than four academic years, with about one-quarter taking more than five years, 10% more than seven. NCES reports that students who begin at two-year schools and finish at four-year schools take almost two academic years longer to finish than those who start four-year schools as freshmen. Economic strain forces people to save on college costs, which prolongs their time in college. The longer college is stretched out, the more likely one won't finish. Kids who go full-time without a worry about how to pay for it are at a great advantage.

This book's data supports the well-established fact that high schools in low-income areas do not prepare graduates well enough for college. But not as much as you might think.

The authors analyzed the quality of high schools that supplied the '99 college freshmen by college prep measures (SAT, ACT, AP). The performance spread between high/low income, high/low test scores, ethnic mixes isn't great. Surprisingly consistent. The spread between the elite state universities and other state schools, however, is remarkably wide across any subgroup. Selective admissions appears to improve grad rate by 220-300 basis points.

Further, the authors note the Chicago Consortium's conclusions that less than half of Chicago high school grads studied enrolled in colleges good enough to match their academic achievements. The authors studied their North Carolina data set and found more than 40% of '99 high school grads with excellent SAT scores + GPAs did not attend exclusive universities. They suggest these students have low expectations too early in the process, most not even applying to better schools. I ask: If they had gotten in, who would have been bumped?

Inevitably, good students will be forced into lesser schools, and many of them will be bored or shamed into dropping out. It doesn't take reams of data to tell you that.

If you read this study, you may conclude that the subsequent question is how to improve college opportunities for people who weren't excellent in high school, weren't raised by college grads, aren't made of money. This no longer is the problem of the state universities. Their capacity constraints lead them to price out and test out more and more applicants. Our country has only one source of new capacity for educating adults, the for-profit schools that the Obama administration seems to abhor. The problem of controlling for-profit schools, ensuring they teach well and award meaningful degrees, seems more manageable than finding the dollars to persuade not-for-profit schools to grow again.
4 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Great Topic -- Not Fully Developed March 23 2010
By Gustavo A. Mellander, Ph.D., D.H.L. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Why do so many students drop out of our colleges? Why do so many take so long to graudate? I fear Vincent Tinto books such as "Leaving College" answer these questions better than these authors and Tinto also provides practical solutions to correct the shortcomings.

Most college students, those who do graduate, never finish in a mere four years. Going part-time is more and more the norm. Going to college is just too expensive. Students have to work to afford it. Also too many students can't find the courses they need to graduate in a timely fashion. Many are burdened with enormous loan obligation once they graduate. The authors would have been more helpful had they studied and explained why college tuition and other costs have outstripped the general annual cost of living rate for decades.

I am surprised that the authors would state that minority and low income students have a lower graduation rate than more privileged students. Duh --one had to write a book to say that?

It is no wonder that America's love affair with higher education is over.
2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
One Side of the Story - Jan. 11 2010
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
About 56% of students entering four-year colleges in America are graduating. The authors focus on the progress of students in the class of 2003, and their conclusion is that minority students and those from low-income families have considerably lower graduation rates. In addition, the proportion completing a bachelor's or more stagnated in the last ten years. We're now tenth among OECD nations in tertiary achievement rate, while in natural sciences and engineering the U.S. was 17th in 2000 graduation rates, down from 2nd in 1975. A major puzzlement for the authors is that it doesn't improve, despite data showing considerably higher earnings for graduates. The bulk of the book is concerned with reaching data-driven conclusions.

What we don't get is anything about why college costs have risen at a rate much faster than inflation, thereby making it difficult for many to attend and complete their studies.
0 of 16 people found the following review helpful
"Not for resale" book Oct. 11 2010
By JF - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The condition of the book is fine, but it is marked "not for resale." This means the seller or the person the seller purchased it from most likely received the book for free. Usually educators, libraries and the like receive free books from publishers and are not supposed to sell them...