New Book Explores Racial Disparities in College Completion Rates

Yesterday, Princeton University Press released a landmark new study entitled Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities. The book, authored by William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson, offers a detailed analysis of the academic performance of more than 121,000 students who in 1999 enrolled at 21 flagship universities and 45 other four-year state-operated institutions in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The book presents far more than what is contained in standard graduation rate data furnished by the U.S. Department of Education. Graduation and dropout rates are examined by race, gender, high school academic performance, standardized test scores, and socioeconomic status. Detailed data is assembled by race on the time it takes students to earn their degrees, and the book shows the factors present when students are likely to drop out. For example, it is commonly believed that most students who drop out of college do so within their first year. But surprisingly, the authors’ data shows that 44 percent of all college dropouts leave school after completing two years or more.

The book is a must read for all higher education administrators seeking to expand educational attainment rates for all students and particularly for those seeking to enhance the academic achievement of blacks and other underrepresented minority students.

A full-length review of this important book will appear in the Autumn 2009 print edition of JBHE and on