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EducationalAttainment:OverallTrends,
Disparities,andthePublicUniversitiesWeStudy
THESUBJECTOFthisbookeducationalattainmentintheUnitedStates
couldhardlybemoretimely.Academics,framersofpublicpolicy,and
journalistsareunitedinbemoaningthefailureoftheUnitedStatesinre-
centyearstocontinuebuildingthehumancapitalitneedstosatisfyeco-
nomic,social,andpoliticalneeds.IntheirbookThe Race Between Educa-
tion and Technology, ClaudiaGoldinandLawrenceKatzapplaudAmericas
astonishinglysteadyandsubstantialeducationalprogressduringtherst
threequartersofthe20thcenturyandthenarejustasemphaticincall-
ingattentiontothedramaticfallingoffintherateofincreaseineduca-
tional attainment since the mid-1970s.
1
The chairman of the Federal
Reserve Board, Ben S. Bernanke, in remarks delivered at Harvard on
Class Day 2008, told the assembled graduates that the best way to im-
proveeconomicopportunityandtoreduceinequalityistoincreasethe
educationalattainmentandskillsofAmericanworkers.
2
TheNew York
Times columnistDavidBrookshasreferredtotheskillsslowdownasthe
biggest issue facing the country.
3
In writing about how to increase
growthinAmerica,DavidLeonhardt,alsoattheNew York Times, sayssim-
ply:Educationeducatingmorepeopleandeducatingthembetter
appearstobethebestsinglebetthatasocietycanmake.
4
Bernankewaswisetocouchhisargumentintermsofeducationalat-
tainment (whichwegenerallyequatewithearningadegree)ratherthan
justenrollmentoryearsofschoolcompleted,forthepayofftocomplet-
ing ones studies is much higher than the payoff to having just been
thereanotheryeartheso-calledsheepskineffect.
5
Inourview,too
muchdiscussionhasfocusedoninitialaccesstoeducationalopportuni-
ties(gettingstarted)ratherthanonattainment(nishing).Itisnote-
worthythatinhisrstspeechtoajointsessionofCongress(andthenin
his budget message), President Barack Obama emphasized the impor-
tanceofgraduating from college, not just enrolling.
6
Inanycase,asBernankeandothershavestressed,thekeylinkageisbe-
tweentheformationofhumancapitalandproductivity.InhisClassDay
remarks,Bernankeobserved:Theproductivitysurgeinthedecadesaf-
terWorldWarIIcorrespondedtoaperiodinwhicheducationalattain-
ment was increasing rapidly. Technological change and the breaking
downofbarrierstotheexchangeofinformationandideasacrossbound-
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CHA P TE R 1
ariesofeverykindhaveunquestionablyincreasedthevalueofbrainpower
andtrainingineverycountry.AsPresidentObamahassaid:Inaglobal
economywherethemostvaluableskillyoucansellisyourknowledge,a
good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunityit is a pre-
requisite.
7
Leonhardtadds:Therereallyisnomysteryaboutwhyedu-
cationwouldbethelifebloodofeconomicgrowth. . . .[Education]helps
asocietyleverageeveryotherinvestmentitmakes,beitinmedicine,trans-
portation,oralternativeenergy.
8
Norareeconomicgainstheonlyrea-
sontoasserttheimportanceofeducationalattainment.Theabilityofa
democracytofunctionwelldependsonahighlevelofpoliticalengage-
ment,whichisalsotiedtotheeducationallevelofthecitizenry.Ahigh
levelofeducationalattainmentfostersciviccontributionsofmanykinds.
9
Eventhoughouremphasisonnishingismeanttobeausefulcor-
rectivetothesometimetendencytofocussimplyonstarting,wehasten
toaddthatthereareofcoursedimensionsofcollegesuccessbeyondjust
graduatingthatmustalsobekeptinmind.Thekindandqualityofthe
undergraduateeducationobtainedareplainlyimportant.Itwouldbea
seriousmistaketotreatallcollegedegreesasthesameortoputsomuch
emphasisonearningadegreethatothereducationalobjectivesarelost
fromsight.ThisiswhysomeareskepticaloftheweightgivenbytheNa-
tional Collegiate Athletic Association to graduation rates (whatever the
subjectstudiedandwhatevertherigorofthegraduationrequirements)
inassessingtheacademicperformanceofscholarshipathletes.Asinplat-
formdiving,differencesinthedegreeofdifcultyofvariouscoursesof
study deserve to be acknowledged, and considerable weight should be
given to academic achievement in assessing educational outcomes. For
thesereasons,weexamineeldsofstudychosenbystudentsandgrades
earned,aswellasgraduationrates.However,muchasthereistobesaid
forsuchner-grainedanalyses,webelieveitisvaluabletoplacespecialem-
phasisongraduationratesaspresumptivelythesinglemostimportantin-
dicatorofeducationalattainmentwhichiswhatwedointhisbook.
EDUCATIONALATTAINMENTINTHEUNITEDSTATES
Thesebasicpropositionsexplainwhythereisreasonforseriousconcern
abouttheslow-downintherateofincreaseintheoveralllevelofeduca-
tionalattainmentintheUnitedStates.Thefactsaresobering.AsGoldin
andKatzreportonthebasisofanexhaustivestudyofhistoricalrecords,
theachievementsofAmericaintherstthreequartersofwhattheycall
theHumanCapitalCenturyareimpressiveindeed.Thiscountrysthen
unprecedented mass secondary schooling and the concurrent establish-
mentofanextensiveandremarkablyexiblesystemofhighereducation
combined to produce gains in educational attainment that were both
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steadyandspectacular(seeFigure1.1,whichplotsyearsofschoolingby
birthcohortsfrom1876tothepresent).Unfortunately,thistrulyamazing
recordofprogresscametoahaltaboutthetimewhenmembersofthe1951
birthcohort(whowere24yearsoldin1975)wereattendingcollege.
10
WeseethissameatteningwhenweusedatafromtheCurrent Popu-
lation Survey to track the educational attainment of 25- to 29-year-olds
from1968to2007(Figure1.2).Althoughtherewasamodestincreasein
educationalattainmentinthe1990s,thecurveisatfortheyearsthere-
after. The failure of educational attainment to continue to increase
steadilyistheresultofproblemsatallstagesofeducation,startingwith
pre-schoolandthenmovingthroughprimaryandsecondarylevelsofed-
ucationandonintocollege(seethediscussioninChapter2oflosses
ofstudentsateachmainstageoftheeducationalprocess).Ourfocuson
completionratesatthecollegelevelshouldcertainlynotbereadasdis-
missingtheneedtomakeprogressatearlierstages.Inanycase,itisnote-
worthythatoverthis40-yearperiodthecompletionrate(thefractionof
those who started college who eventually earned a bachelors degree)
changedhardlyatall,whiletime-to-degreeincreasedmarkedly.
11
ThisisnotaprettypicturewhenlookedatthroughthelensofAmer-
icashistoryofeducationalaccomplishmentsduringtherst75yearsof
the20thcentury.Itisanequallydisturbingpicturewhenjuxtaposedwith
15
14
13
12
11
10
9
8
7
Year of Birth
Figure1.1. YearsofSchoolingofU.S.Native-BornCitizensbyBirthCohorts,
18761975
Source: GoldinandKatz,gure1.4.
Y
e
a
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s

o
f

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a
t

A
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3
5

Y
e
a
r
s

1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980

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1968 1973 1978
Completion Rate
Some College or More
Bachelors Degree or More
1983 1988 1993 1998 2003
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
S
h
a
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e

B
a
c
h
e
l
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s

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,

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e

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(
P
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)

Figure1.2. EducationalAttainmentof25-to29-Year-Olds,19682007
Source: Current Population Survey.
theremarkablegainsineducationalattainmentinothercountries.Asis
increasinglyrecognized,theUnitedStatescannolongerclaimthatitis
rst-in-classintermsofcontinuingprogressinbuildinghumancapital.
The2008annualstock-takingdocumentproducedbytheOrganization
forEconomicCo-operationandDevelopment(OECD)reportedthatthe
2006 higher education attainment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds in the
UnitedStatesisnearlyidenticaltothatof55-to64-year-olds,agroup30
years their senior. In 2006, the United States ranked 10th among the
membersoftheOECDinitstertiaryattainmentrate.Thisisalargedrop
fromprecedingyears:theUnitedStatesranked5thin2001and3rdin
1998.Moreover,intheUnitedStatesonly56percentofenteringstudents
nishedcollege,anoutcomethatplacedthiscountrysecondtothebot-
tomoftherank-orderingofcountriesbycompletionrate.
12
Inrecogni-
tionofthisreality,PresidentObamahassetanambitiousgoalforAmer-
icanhighereducation:By2020,Americawillonceagainhavethehigh-
estproportionofcollegegraduatesintheworld.
13
Andthesituationin
theUnitedStatesisevenmoreworryingwhenthefocusisondegreesinthe
naturalsciencesandengineering.Accordingtoareportpublishedby
theNationalScienceBoard,Theproportionofthecollege-agepopula-
tionthatearneddegreesinNS&Eeldswassubstantiallylargerinmore
than16countriesinAsiaandEuropethanintheUnitedStatesin2000.
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Inthatyear,theUnitedStatesrankedjustbelowItalyandaboveonlyfour
othercountries.Twenty-veyearsearlier,in1975,theUnitedStateswas
tiedwithFinlandforsecondplace(belowonlyJapan).
14
AcentralquestioniswhyeducationalattainmentintheUnitedStates
hasbeenonaplateauinrecentyears.Inseekingtoanswerthisquestion,
akeyanalyticaltoolisthewagepremiumsearnedbycollegegraduates
andhighschoolgraduates.DatapainstakinglyassembledbyGoldinand
Katz (presented in Figure 1.3) show that both of these premiums fell
sharply between 1915 and 1950, moved somewhat erratically between
1950and1980,andthenincreasedsharplyfrom1980to2005withthe
wagepremiumforcollegegraduatesincreasingmuchfasterthanthepre-
miumforhighschoolgraduates.By2005,thewagepremiumforcollege
graduateshadreturnedtothehigh-watermarksetin1915.
15
Inlookinginsidetheseratios,GoldinandKatzfoundthatthegrowth
rate of demand for more educated workers (relative to less educated
workers)wasfairlyconstantovertheentireperiodfrom1915to2005.It
wasthepronouncedslow-downintherateofgrowthinthesupplyofed-
ucated workers (especially native-born workers) that was primarily re-
sponsibleforthemarkedincreaseinthecollegegraduatewagepremium.
In recent years, growth in the supply of college-educated workers has
beensluggishandhasnotkeptupwithincreasesindemandespecially
inceasesinthedemandforindividualswithstrongproblem-solvingskills
0.65
0.45
College Graduate Wage Premium
High School Graduate Wage Premium
0.40
0.35
0.30
0.25
0.20
0.55
0.45
0.35
0.25
1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
C
o
l
l
e
g
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G
r
a
d
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a
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W
a
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P
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Figure1.3. WagePremiumsofCollegeGraduatesandHighSchoolGraduates,
19152005
Source: GoldinandKatz,gure8.1.
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anddegreesfromthemoreselectiveundergraduateprogramsandlead-
ingprofessionalschools.
16
Therealpuzzleiswhyeducationalattainment
hasfailedtorespondtothepowerfuleconomicincentivesrepresented
bythehighcollegegraduatewagepremium.Wewouldhaveexpectedris-
ingreturnsoninvestmentsinacollegeeducationtohaveelicitedasolid
increaseinthenumberofstudentsearningbachelorsdegrees.
17
Butthis
hasnothappened.
To be sure, some commentators have suggested that the perception
thattherearesuperioreconomicreturnstoinvestmentsinhigheredu-
cation is mistaken; however, careful statistical work by several leading
economistsstronglysuggeststhattheseworriesaremisplaced.Indeed,re-
search reported and reviewed by David Card (among others), suggests
thatreturnsforprospectivecollegestudentswhomightbeaddedatthe
marginareatleastashighastheaverageforallstudents.
18
AsGoldin
andKatzputit,theremaybesomenaturallimittotheshareofhigh
schoolgraduateswhocanbenetfromearningacollegedegreetheop-
timalgraduationrateissurelynot100percentbutthereisnoevidence
thatweareanywhereclosetosuchalimitnow.
19
Thus,thesluggishresponseofeducationalattainmenttoeconomicin-
centivesremainspuzzling,andwearedrivenbacktotheneedtounder-
standtheforcesresponsibleforwhatappearstobeasupply-sideblock.
One possible explanation for the surprisingly stagnant state of overall
educationalattainmentintheUnitedStatescanberejectedoutofhand:
the problem is not low aspirations. Students of all family backgrounds
havehigh(andrising)educationalaspirations.TheEducationLongitu-
dinal Study of 2002 shows that in 2002, 80 percent of 10th-graders ex-
pectedtoearnabachelorsdegreeorhigherwith40percentexpecting
toearnagraduateorprofessionaldegree.In1980,justhalfasmany10th-
gradershadsimilarlyhighaspirations.Especiallynoteworthyistheevi-
denceofrisingaspirationsamongstudentsoflowsocioeconomicstatus
(SES): whereas in 1980, 22 percent of these 10th-graders aspired to a
bachelorsdegreeorhigher,in2002,threetimesasmany(66percent)
hadsuchaspirations.In2002,77percentofblack10th-gradersaspired
toearnabachelorsdegreeorhigher.Theconclusionissimple:thereare
nolongerpronouncedaspirationgapsbyraceorSES.
20
The presence of high aspirations does not mean, however, that any-
thinglikeallhigh-aspiringstudentsknowhowtotranslatetheiraspira-
tionsintorealities.Onthecontrary,thereismuchevidenceoflimited
knowledgeofhowtoprepareforcollegeandhowtoenroll,whichwewill
presentinduecourse.Moregenerally,problemsofpreparednesshave
theirrootsinfamilycircumstancesandeducationaldecitsthatareevi-
dentbothinearlychildhoodyearsandinhighschool.Subsequently,-
nancialconstraints,combinedwithanaversiontoborrowingonthepart
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ofsome,caninhibitstudentsfromnishingcollegeorevenfromstart-
ing.Alsoatworkareacombinationofdemographictrendsanddispari-
tiesineducationaloutcomesrelatedtoraceandSES.
21
Beforesayingmoreaboutthesedisparitiesandwhyweconsiderthem
soimportant,weneedtollinonemorepieceofthelargerpuzzle.For
muchofourrecenthistory,theUnitedStateshasreliedheavilyonim-
portsofwell-educatedstudentsfromothercountriestocompensatefor
itsowndifcultiesingraduatingenoughnative-borncandidatesforad-
vanceddegreesand,inparticular,forjobsinscienceandengineering.
Censusdatarevealthatin2000,foreign-bornholdersofdoctoratescon-
stitutedapproximatelyhalf ofalldoctorate-holdersamongemployeden-
gineers,scientists,andmathematicians.
22
Thepercentageofscienceand
engineeringPh.D.graduateswhowereforeignbornincreasedfrom23
percentin1966to39percentin2000.
23
ItwouldbeaseriousmistaketobelievethattheUnitedStatescancon-
tinuetorelysoheavilyonthisinowoftalentfromoverseas.Following
9/11,therewasamarkedfall-offinforeignenrollments,dueinparttovisa
issues.Visaprocessinghasnowbecomemoreefcient,andsomeofthe
perception problems that inhibited foreign enrollment have lessened.
Still,itisunclearwhatwillhappentoforeignenrollments,especiallyto
foreignenrollmentsingraduateprogramsinscienceandengineering.A
surveyreleasedbytheCouncilofGraduateSchools(CGS)inAugust2008
indicatesthatwhilethenumberofforeignstudentsadmittedtoU.S.grad-
uateschoolsincreasedin2008,therateofincreaseoverthepreviousyear
declinedforthesecondconsecutiveyear.DatareleasedbytheCGSinNo-
vember2008showthatrst-timeenrollmentalsogrewbyjust3percent.
24
Animportantconsiderationtobearinmindisthatuniversitiesinother
partsoftheworld,includingbothEuropeandAsia,aremakingincreas-
ingly aggressive efforts to compete for top students from all over the
world.India,China,andSouthKoreaareexamplesofcountriesactively
engaged in improving their own educational systems.
25
In the future,
promising students from these countries will have better and better
educational opportunities at home. China now takes in more students
thanitsendsabroad;in2007,itsforeignenrollmentrankedfthinthe
world.
26
Themoralofthestoryissimple:theUnitedStatesisgoingto
havetodoabetterjobofgrowingitsowntimberaphrasepopularin
South Africa, where the same issues are being debated. Of course, in-
creasingeducationalattainmentatthebachelorslevelisnottheonly
and probably not the most efcientway of increasing the number of
Americanswhoearnadvanceddegreesinscienceandengineering.Seri-
ousthoughtneedstobegiventotheincentivesthatinuencechoiceof
majoramongU.S.undergraduatesandtotheincentivesusedtoencour-
agestudentstoundertakeandcompleteadvanceddegrees.
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EDUCATIONALDISPARITIESANDWHYTHEYMATTER
Inseekingtounderstandpatternsofeducationalattainmentsothatwe
canaddressrecentshortfallsintherateofgrowthofhumancapital,ama-
jor complicationand a major source of concernis the existence of
large disparities in educational outcomes related to (1) race/ethnicity
andgender,and(2)SES,whichreectsbothfamilyincomeandparental
education.Inbudgetmaterialsrelatedtohighereducationwhichwere
releasedbytheWhiteHouseandwhichpresentedanoverviewofPresi-
dentObamas2010scalbudget,thesedisparitieswereacknowledgedby
notingthatthereisanopportunitygap,aswellasashortfallintheover-
allnumberofcollegegraduates.
27
Wedocumentthesedisparitiesinde-
tailinChapters3and4ofthisstudy.Forpresentpurposes,itwillsufce
tocomparethenationaleducationalattainmentrates(denedhereas
thepercentageofeighth-graderswhowentontoearnabachelorsde-
greebyage26)ofstudentsfromthetwogroupsjustmentioned:
28
1. Thirty-six percent of white women earned a bachelors degree by
age26comparedwith22percentofblackwomenand13percent
ofHispanicwomen;justunder30percentofwhitemenearneda
bachelorsdegreecomparedwith1112percentofblackandHis-
panicmen.
2. Sixty-eightpercentofstudentsfromfamiliesinthetopincomequar-
tilewithatleastoneparenthavingreceivedacollegedegreeearned
abachelorsdegreebyage26comparedwithjust9percentofthose
from families in the bottom income quartile with neither parent
havingreceivedacollegedegree.
Whydothesepronounceddisparities(andothersnothighlightedhere)
mattersomuch?First,thedeeplyrooteddifferencesinacademicachieve-
mentthatareassociatedwithraceandethnicity,whenconsideredalong-
sidedemographictrends,havemajoradverseimplicationsforthecountrys
overalllevelofeducationalattainmentinthefuture.Themostconsequen-
tialdemographictrendrelatestoHispanicstudents.Between200405and
201415, the nations public schools are projected to produce nearly
197,000fewerwhitenon-Hispanichighschoolgraduates(adeclineof11
percent);overthissameperiod,thepublichighschoolswillproducealmost
207,000moreHispanicgraduates(anincreaseof54percent).Ifcurrent
differencesincollegegraduationratesbyrace/ethnicitypersist,thisshift
aloneimpliesthattherewillbeadecreaseofroughly5percentinthena-
tionsoveralleducationalattainmentrate(andthedropwouldbegreater
wereitnotforthepartiallyoffsettingeffectofaprojectedincreaseinAsian
highschoolgraduates,whohaveanabove-averagecompletionrate).
29
InAugust2008,theU.S.CensusBureauprojectedthatby2042,Amer-
icanswhoidentifythemselvesasHispanic,black,Asian,AmericanIndian,
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Native Hawaiian, and Pacic Islander will together outnumber non-
Hispanicwhites.Justfouryearsearlier,ofcialshadprojectedthatthis
shiftwouldoccurin2050.TheNew York Times reports:Forthersttime,
boththenumberandtheproportionofnon-Hispanicwhites,whonow
accountfor66percentofthepopulation,willdecline,startingaround
2030.By2050,theirsharewilldipto46percent.
30
Theconclusionissimple:afailuretoreducecurrentdisparitiesinrates
ofeducationalattainmentbyrace/ethnicityisboundtoexacerbatethe
problemofasluggish,atbest,rateofincreaseinhumancapitalforma-
tion. It will not do to concentrate efforts on improving outcomes of
college-bound upper-class white students, who already have a much
higherrateofeducationalattainmentthandootherstudentsifforno
otherreasonthanthattherearenotgoingtobeenoughofthem.
Second,disparitiesineducationalattainmentleadtogreaterinequal-
itiesofallkinds,whichinturnhavemultiplelong-termeffects.Consis-
tentwiththetenorofthendingsofGoldinandKatzcitedearlier,the
DepartmentofEducations2008Condition of Education reporttellsusthat
young adults with bachelors degrees earned 28 percent more in 2006
thanthosewithassociatesdegreesand50percentmorethanthosewith
justhighschooldiplomas.
31
Inrecentyearstherehavebeennumerous
articles in the popular press citing dramatic differences in rates of in-
creaseinincomebetweenthoseatthetopoftheincomedistributionand
everyoneelse.Accordingtoa2004CongressionalBudgetOfcestudy,
thoseinthetopquintileweremaking63percentmorethanin1979,af-
teradjustingforination;comparableincreaseswere2percent(bottom
quintile),11percent(nextquintile),13percent(middlequintile),and
23percent(fourthquintile).In1979,thetop1percentreceived9per-
centoftotalincome;in2004,theyreceived16percent.Incommenting
onthesedata,RogerLowensteinemphasizesthestronglinkwitheduca-
tionalattainmentanddescribesthefailureofratesofeducationalattain-
menttoriseinthefaceofhighreturnsasaconundrum.
32
Theconsequencesoffailingtodealwiththesegrowinginequalitiescan
beprofound.Asonecommentatorputit:Thereislittlequestionthatit
isbadforoneshealthtobepoor.Moregenerally,researchindicates
that high inequality reverberates through societies on multiple levels,
correlatingwith,ifnotcausing,morecrime,lesshappiness,poorermen-
tal and physical health, less racial harmony, and less civic and political
participation. There is evidence that living in a society with wide
disparitiesinhealth,inwealth,ineducationisworseforall thesoci-
etysmembers.Apparently,relativedeprivationisanimportantphe-
nomenon,andthereisevidencethatlevelsofstressthroughoutasociety
tendtobeafunctionofthedegreeofinequality.
33
Third,astheargumentsintheUniversityofMichiganafrmativeaction
case demonstrate,
34
there is educational value to the presence in class-

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roomsandoncampusesofadiversestudentpopulation,withdiversitymea-
suredalongmanydimensions(race/ethnicity,gender,SES,geography).
Fourth,equityandfairnessconcernsare,toourwayofthinking,com-
pelling.Thelong-termhealthofourcountrydependsontheexistence
of social mobility and a widely shared condence that students from
racial minorities and poor families have a real opportunity to move
ahead. The increasing inequalities in income and wealth that are so
muchinthenewsthesedayshighlighttheimportanceofensuringthat
educational opportunities close rather than widen disparities in access
tothemostpowerfulaswellasthemosthighlyremuneratedpositions
in society. In the Michigan afrmative action case, Justice Sandra Day
OConnorbrokenewgroundwhenshemovedbeyondthediversityde-
fenseofafrmativeactiontoopinethatthediffusionofknowledgeand
opportunity...mustbeaccessibletoallindividualsregardlessofraceor
ethnicity. . . .Effectiveparticipationbymembersofallracialandethnic
groupsintheciviclifeofourNationisessentialifthedreamofoneNa-
tion,indivisible,istoberealized.
35
THEPUBLICUNIVERSITIESINOURSTUDY:
THEIRSALIENTCHARACTERISTICSANDLOCATION
WITHINAMERICANHIGHEREDUCATION
Itisagainstthissoberingbackdropinwhichpresent-dayrealitiescontrast
sosharplywithdeeplyheldaspirationsthatwenowdescribethemainin-
stitutionalactorsinthestorythatweareabouttotell.Asimportantasthe
privatesectorofhighereducationisinAmerica,
36
thestruggletoimprove
educational attainment across the board and to reduce the marked dis-
paritiesinoutcomesthataresotroublingwilltakeplacemainlywithinthe
publicuniversities.Inthevernacular,thatiswheretheactionis(oratleast
most of it). Approximately two-thirds of all full-time students pursuing
bachelorsdegreesatfour-yearcollegesanduniversitiesattendpublicuni-
versities. As a group, public universities are, of course, subsidized by the
statesinwhichtheyarelocated,chargelowertuitiontoin-statethantoout-
of-statestudents,andenrollundergraduatestudentswhoareresidentsofthe
states in which the universities are located (about 80 percent, on aver-
age).Moststatesystemsarestratiedandincludeawiderangeofpublic
institutionsboth research-intensive public universities (with extensive
Ph.D.programsandprofessionalschoolsineldssuchaslaw,business,and
medicine)andcomprehensivecollegesanduniversitiesthatplacemore
emphasisonundergraduateandmasters-levelprograms.
Inpursuingourstrategyoffocusingonthepublicsectoringeneral,we
rstgathereddataontheapproximately125,000membersofthe1999
enteringcohortat21prestigiousresearch-intensiveagshipuniversities
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(listedinTable1.1).
37
TheseuniversitiesareallmembersoftheAssociation
ofAmericanUniversitiesandarewidelyregardedasleadersinAmerican
highereducation.Theywerechosenonthebasisofanon-scienticbutcare-
fullyconsideredefforttoachievebothgeographicdiversity(thesetofinsti-
tutionsbeingstudiedincludesagshipuniversitiesfromtheWestCoast,the
Midwest,theSouth,andtheNortheast),andamixofothercharacteristics,
includingdifferencesinracialcompositionandindegreeofselectivity,as
approximatedbytheaverageSAT/ACTscoreofenrolledstudents.
38
Wethenaddeddataonthe99enteringcohortsatessentiallyallpub-
lic universities in the four state systems of Maryland, North Carolina,
Ohio,andVirginia(these47additionalstatesystempublicuniversities
arelistedinTable1.2anddescribedinmoredetailinAppendixTable
1.2).
39
Thetwomaindifferencesbetweentheagshipsandthestatesys-
temuniversitiesapartfromthemuchgreatergeographicdispersionof
theagships,whichreectsthedifferentwaysinwhichthetwosetsof
universitieswerechosenareinaverageenteringenrollmentandselec-
tivity.Theaverageagshipinourstudyenrolledslightlymorethan4,100
rst-timefull-timefreshmenin1999ascomparedwithamedianenroll-
mentofjust1,400atthe47statesystemuniversities.Themedianaverage
SAT/ACTscoreoftheenteringfreshmenintheagshipswas170points
higherthanthemedianaverageinthe47statesystemuniversities.
AsisevidentfromTables1.1and1.2,wedividedtheuniversitiesinour
two databases into selectivity clusters based on the average SAT/ACT
scoresoftheirenteringclasses;werefertotheseclustersasSELI,SELII,
andSELIIIinthecaseoftheagshipsandasSELAandSELBinthe
caseofthestatesystems.Useofaselectivitycategorizationisnotmeant
toimplythatweendorsetherankingsgame,whichweregardasfool-
ishandhurtfultostudentstryingtondthebesttbetweentheircapa-
bilitiesandinterestsandthecharacteristicsofinstitutionstowhichthey
choose to apply. There is no denying, however, that there are pro-
nounceddifferencesinoutcomes,suchasgraduationrates,acrossselec-
tivityclusters.Failuretoacknowledgethesedifferenceswouldmuddythe
analysisofmanyimportantquestions,suchastheeffectsonoutcomesof
high school characteristics and differences in the predictive power of
SAT/ACTscoresandhighschoolGPA.Theuseofselectivityclustersalso
allowsustostudy,onsomethingapproachinganother-things-equalba-
sis,thestrongrelationshipbetweeninstitutionalselectivityperseandout-
comessuchasgraduationratesandtime-to-degree.Neartheendofthis
chapter we will present additional information on trends in selectivity
amongtheagshipsandwillalsocommentmoregenerallyonthechar-
acteristicsoftheseimportantuniversities.
Aswenowseektolocateouruniversitieswithintheuniverseoffour-
yearinstitutions,therstpointtonoteisthatthe68publicuniversitiesin
ourstudy(21agshipsplusotherstatesystemuniversities,includinghis-
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TABLE 1.1
FlagshipUniversitiesbySelectivityCluster
SEL I
UniversityofCaliforniaBerkeley
UniversityofCaliforniaLosAngeles(UCLA)
UniversityofMarylandCollegePark
UniversityofMichigan
UniversityofNorthCarolinaChapelHill
UniversityofVirginia
SEL II
PennsylvaniaStateUniversity
Rutgers,TheStateUniversityofNewJersey
UniversityofFlorida
UniversityofIllinoisatUrbana-Champaign
UniversityofTexasAustin
UniversityofWashington
UniversityofWisconsinMadison
SEL III
IowaStateUniversity
OhioStateUniversity
PurdueUniversity
StonyBrookUniversity
UniversityofIowa
UniversityofMinnesotaTwinCities
UniversityofNebraskaLincoln
UniversityofOregon
toricallyblackcollegesanduniversities,orHBCUs)educateafarfromtriv-
ialshareofallstudentsatfour-yearcollegesanduniversitiesinthiscoun-
try.Full-timefreshmenattheseuniversitiesmakeupalmostaquarterof
full-time freshmen at all four-year public universities (our estimate is 23
percent)androughly15percentoffull-timefreshmenatallpublicandpri-
vatefour-yearcollegesanduniversities.Ofcourse,thesepercentagesdrop
appreciablyifwechooseasareferencepointstudentsattendingalltwo-
yearorfour-yearcolleges:the15percentgurefallstoabout10percent.
Anextkeyquestionishowthecharacteristicsofthepublicuniversities
that we study compare with the characteristics of the entire set of
publicandprivateuniversitiesthatmakeupthefour-yearsectorofAmer-
icanhighereducation.Table1.3providesabasisforansweringthisques-
tion.Inthistableweshowsummarydataforour21agshipsandthe28
statesystemSELBsandcomparablesummarydataforallfour-yearpub-
licuniversitiesandallfour-yearprivatecollegesanduniversities.
40
Weex-
cludethe8statesystemSELAsshowninTable1.2becausetheyaresimi-
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TABLE1.2
StateSystemUniversitiesbySelectivityClusterorHBCUStatus
Maryland
SEL A
UniversityofMarylandBaltimoreCounty
SEL B
FrostburgStateUniversity
SalisburyUniversity
TowsonUniversity
HBCU
BowieStateUniversity
CoppinStateUniversity
UniversityofMarylandEasternShore
NorthCarolina
SEL A
NorthCarolinaStateUniversity
UniversityofNorthCarolinaAsheville
SEL B
AppalachianStateUniversity
UniversityofNorthCarolinaCharlotte
UniversityofNorthCarolinaGreensboro
UniversityofNorthCarolinaPembroke
UniversityofNorthCarolinaWilmington
WesternCarolinaUniversity
HBCU
ElizabethCityStateUniversity
FayettevilleStateUniversity
NorthCarolinaA&TUniversity
NorthCarolinaCentralUniversity
WinstonSalemStateUniversity
Ohio
SEL A
MiamiUniversity
SEL B
BowlingGreenStateUniversity
ClevelandStateUniversity
KentStateUniversity
OhioUniversity
ShawneeStateUniversity
UniversityofAkron
UniversityofCincinnati
UniversityofToledo
WrightStateUniversity
YoungstownStateUniversity
HBCU
CentralStateUniversity
Virginia
SEL A
CollegeofWilliamandMary
JamesMadisonUniversity
UniversityofMaryWashington
VirginiaTech
SEL B
ChristopherNewportUniversity
GeorgeMasonUniversity
LongwoodUniversity
OldDominionUniversity
RadfordUniversity
UniversityofVirginiasCollegeatWise
VirginiaCommonwealthUniversity
VirginiaMilitaryInstitute
HBCU
NorfolkStateUniversity
VirginiaStateUniversity
larinsomanyrespectstotheagships,andwealsoexcludethe11state
systemHBCUsbecausetheyhavefewnationalcounterparts.(Inthechap-
tersthatfollow,wedescribethecharacteristicsoftheseHBCUswithinthe
contextoftheirrespectivestatesystems.)
Thesecomparisonsarerevealinginmanyways.Wesee,rstofall,that
theagshipsdifferinalmostallrespectsfromboththestatesystemSEL
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CHA P TE R 1
Bsandallpublicandprivatefour-yearinstitutions.Aswewouldhaveex-
pected, the agships have much larger undergraduate enrollments,
higherSAT/ACTscores,loweradmitrates,andhigheraveragegradua-
tionrates.Theyalsohavemorediversestudentbodies(withwhitenon-
Hispanicstudentscomprisingonlyaboutthreequartersoftheirstudent
bodies),whichwethinkresultsprimarilyfromthefactthatanumberof
theagshipsareinheavilyurbanareasandinstatessuchasCalifornia,
withlargeAsianandHispanicpopulations.(AppendixTables1.1and1.2
providemuchmoredetaileddataontheethnicandracialcompositions
ofthestudentbodiesoftheindividualuniversitiesinourstudy.)
ThemoreinterestingcomparisonsarebetweenourstatesystemSEL
Bsandtherestofthefour-yearcollegesanduniversitiesinAmerica.Us-
ingmedianrst-yearenrollmentasonemetric,wendthattheSELBs
are, on average, roughly 80 percent larger than the typical public uni-
versityandalmostseventimeslargerthanthetypicalprivatecollegeor
universityasectorthatincludesmanyverysmallinstitutions.(Topro-
videsomeindicationofthedispersionaroundthemedians,inTable1.3
wealsoreportinterquartileranges;themainlessontherangesteachus
is that there is considerably more variation among the private colleges
and universities than among the public institutions and that, as one
wouldexpect,thereismorevariationamongallfour-yearpublicinstitu-
tionsthanthereisamongourstatesystemSELBs.)
Muchmorestrikingthandifferencesinmedianenrollment,andperhaps
moresurprising,isthattheSELBsareverymuchlikebothallpublicand
allprivatefour-yearcollegesanduniversitiesintermsofselectivity.Theav-
erageSAT/ACTscoresandaverageadmitrates(bothmeasuredasmedi-
ans) are very, very similar across these sets of institutionsthe average
SAT/ACTscoresdifferbynomorethan2or3percent;theSELBsadmit
77percentoftheirapplicants,whereasallpublicsadmit75percentandall
privateinstitutionsadmit78percent.Inracialdiversity,too,thedifferences
betweentheSELBsandthelargersetsofuniversitiesareminimal.Asone
wouldexpect,theSELBsandallfour-yearpublicsenrollmorein-statestu-
dentsthandotheprivateinstitutions.Finally,theaveragesix-yeargradua-
tionrateattheSELBs(51percent)isreasonablyclosetotheaveragefor
allpublics(45percent)andallprivateinstitutions(55percent).Thegen-
eralconclusionwedrawfromthesedataisthat,intermsofselectivity,di-
versity,andgraduationrates,thestatesystemSELBsinourstudyaretoler-
ablyrepresentativeofAmericanhighereducation.
So,althoughwedonotwanttoclaimtoomuchfortherepresenta-
tivenessoftheresultsthatwereportinthisbook(whichcertainlydonot
reectanythingpurportingtobeascienticsamplingeffort),weare
reassuredtondthatourpopulationisbothconsequentialinsizeand
puttingtheagshipsofftoonesidesurprisinglysimilarinkeycharac-
teristicstotherestofAmericanhighereducation.TheSELBcompar-
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TABLE1.3
LocationofthePublicUniversitiesinOurStudywithin
AmericanHigherEducation
All All
Our State Four-Year Four-Year
Our System Public Private
Flagships SEL Bs Universities Universities
NumberofInstitutions 21 28 540 1,129
TotalFull-Time 94,316 51,736 749,273 392,331
FreshmanEnrollment
MedianFull-Time 4,131 1,922 1,059 280
FreshmanEnrollment (3,6195,291) (8972,555) (5392,035) (145486)
MedianSAT/ACT
a
1195 1030 1018 1065
(11251240) (9751058) (9701090) (9901140)
MedianAdmitRate 64 77 75 78
(Percent) (5474) (7188) (6485) (6885)
MedianPercentageWhite 76 83 80 83
(6481) (7789) (6289) (6891)
MedianPercentage 79 90 90 63
In-State (7090) (8695) (8696) (4082)
MedianSix-Year 77 51 45 55
GraduationRate (6684) (4561) (3556) (4168)
(Percent)
Source: IPEDS(IntegratedPostsecondaryEducationDataSystem)andCollegeBoardAnnual
SurveyofColleges.
Notes: Forfull-timefreshmanenrollment,averageSAT/ACTscores,admitrates,percentageofwhite
students,percentageofin-statestudents,andsix-yeargraduationrateswepresentinterquartileranges
aswellasmedians(withtheguresatthe25thand75thpercentilesshownbelowthemedians).
a
MedianoftheaverageSAT/ACTscoreforeachinstitution.
isonsalsoreinforceoursensethatwewerewisetoincludethefourstate
systemsinourstudyasacomplementtotheagships.
THEFLAGSHIPS:TRENDSINSELECTIVITY
ANDOTHERCHARACTERISTICS
IncontrasttotheSELBs,theagshipsarefarfromrepresentative;the
students at these prestigious universities are, by any measure, a special
group.Theyhavehadstrongpre-collegiatepreparation,andtheyenjoy
accesstoeducationalresourcesfarbeyondwhatcanbeofferedbymany
othercollegesanduniversities,publicandprivate.Forbothoftheserea-
sons,itishardlysurprisingthatgraduationratesattheagshipsareap-
preciably higher than the rates among students attending all four-year
collegesanduniversities.
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Asmanycommentatorshavenoted(seethediscussioninAppendixA),
theagshipuniversitieshavebecomemuchmoreselectiveovertime.At
threehighlyselectiveuniversitiesforwhichwehavebeenabletoassem-
bleconsistentdatafortheyears19742006theUniversityofCalifornia
Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of North Carolina (UNC)Chapel
Hill, and the University of Virginiathe fraction of entering students
with A or A+ high school grades has risen from roughly 55 percent to
about90percentoverthis35-yearperiod(Figure1.4).Atthreesomewhat
lessselectiveuniversities(IowaStateandOhioStateUniversitiesandVir-
giniaTech),thefractionofenteringstudentswithAorA+gradeshasrisen
at least as rapidlyfrom just over 20 percent to roughly 60 percent
atthesametimethatthefractionwithhighschoolgradesintheC+or
lowerrangehasfallenfromjustover10percenttonearlyzero(Figure
1.5).
41
InChapter12wecommentonthepolicyimplicationsofthispro-
nouncedincreaseinselectivity.
There have been accompanying changes in the SES of students at-
tendingtheseuniversitiesasreected,forexample,inthehighestlevel
ofeducationobtainedbymothersofenteringfreshmen.In1972,atthe
three less selective universities listed in the previous paragraph, more
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006
A or A+
B or B+
C+ or Below
P
e
r
c
e
n
t
a
g
e

o
f

S
t
u
d
e
n
t
s

Figure1.4. AverageHighSchoolGradeDistributionofIncomingFreshmenat
HighlySelectiveUniversities
Source: HigherEducationResearchInstitute(HERI)FreshmanSurvey.
Note: TheuniversitiesincludedareUCLA,UNCChapelHill,andtheUniversityofVir-
ginia.Thesetrendswereobtainedbytakinganaverageofthegradesatthethreeschools.
Blanksrepresentmissingdataforatleastoneoftheconstituentuniversitiesforthecorre-
spondingyear.
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100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 1972
A or A+
B or B+
C+ or Below
P
e
r
c
e
n
t
a
g
e

o
f

S
t
u
d
e
n
t
s

Figure1.5. AverageHighSchoolGradeDistributionofIncomingFreshmenat
LessSelectiveUniversities
Source: HERIFreshmanSurvey.
Note: TheuniversitiesincludedareIowaStateandOhioStateUniversitiesandVirginia
Tech.Thesetrendswereobtainedbytakinganaverageofthegradesatthethreeschools.
Blanksrepresentmissingdataforatleastoneoftheconstituentuniversitiesforthecorre-
spondingyear.
than40percentofthesemothershadonlyahighschooldegree;by2002
this percentage had fallen to 20 percent, and by then almost an equal
number had a graduate degree. Of course, educational attainment of
womenhasrisendramaticallyacrosstheboard,butnotatthisrate.There
isalsoevidencethataveragefamilyincomehasgoneupmarkedly,much
faster than the national average. Today more than 40 percent of the
undergraduatesattheseuniversitiescomefromfamiliesinthetopquar-
tileoftheincomedistribution.
42
Thesewidelyrecognizedtrendsbothinthedegreeofselectivityand
intheshareofstudentswhocomefromprivilegedbackgroundshave
provokedmuchdebateastowhethertheseinstitutionsarebecomingtoo
privatizedandarelosingtheirtraditionalcharacter,whatsomethinkof
astheirroleaspeoplesuniversities.Itisnotforustopronounceon
thisissuewhichisinfactmuchmorecomplicatedthanitissometimes
thoughttobebutEugeneTobinsanalysisoftheevolutionoftheag-
shipsinAppendixAremindsusofseveralsalientpoints:
TheagshipsareimportanttoAmericanhighereducation,andto
America,formanyreasonsbeyondtheeducationtheyprovidetotal-
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CHA P TE R 1
entedundergraduates.Theyaremajorresearchuniversitiesthatalso
havemanyofthecountrysleadinggraduateandprofessionalpro-
grams. In addition, they contribute in many ways to the states in
whichtheyarelocated.Therearenaturalinevitabletensionsbe-
tweenthevariedmissionsoftheseuniversitiesatthesametimethat
theycomplementeachotherinmanyways.Onereasontheseuni-
versitiesaremoreselectivethaneverbeforeisthatmanyofthecoun-
trys most promising undergraduates want to study in a university
thathasexcellentfaculty,acommitmenttoscholarship,andgradu-
ateeducationthatisbothimportantinitsownrightandnecessary
torecruitandholdoutstandingfaculty.
Asenrollmentpressureshavemounted,alongwithpressurestoex-
celinresearchandgraduateeducation,itisnaturalthatmanystates
haveoptedforgreaterspecializationoffunctionintheiroverallsys-
temsofhighereducation.TheCaliforniaMasterPlan(discussedat
lengthinAppendixA)isagoodexampleofhowitispossibletostrat-
ifysystemsofhighereducationbuttheactualexperienceinCali-
forniaisagoodwarningthattheresultsobtained(interms,forin-
stance,oftheoverallnumberofbachelorsdegreesconferred)do
notalwaysmatchidealizednotionsofhowcarefullystructuredsys-
temsofhighereducationwillinfactperform.
Thegreaterselectivitythatweobservetodayistheresultinlargepart
ofdemographictrends,notconsciouspolicydecisions.Thenumber
of prospective students with strong academic credentials has in-
creasedfasterthanplacesattheagships,andtheresultisanentirely
predictableincreaseinthecompetitionfortheseplaces.Becausefam-
ilybackgroundcorrelateswithacademicpreparation,theincreasing
concentrationattheseuniversitiesofstudentsfromprivilegedback-
groundsishardlysurprising.Butweshouldalsorecognizethatstu-
dentbodiesattheagshipswereneverasrepresentativeofthepop-
ulationsoftheirstatesassomewouldhaveusbelieve.Inearlierdays,
largefractionsofthoseeligibletoattendleadingpublicuniversities
came,astheydonow,fromtheprofessionalandupper-incomefam-
iliesthatsawtoitthattheirchildrenhadthepre-collegiateprepara-
tionnecessarytosucceedattheseuniversities.
Finally,itisimportanttoresistthetemptationtoimaginethatthere
wasagoldenageinwhichstudentsfromeverybackgroundwere
taught personally and brilliantly at major agship universities as a
matterofcourse.Oneofthemosttellingvignettesintheaccountof
the evolution of the agships in Appendix A is the complaint by
undergraduatesattendinguniversitiesroughly100yearsago,inthe
earlypartofthe20thcentury,thattheyweretaughtinlargelecture
coursesandleftadriftunaided...inanextremelyimpersonalen-
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vironment.Themorethingschange,themoretheystaythesame!
And today, resource constraints at even the most prestigious ag-
shipscanpreventundergraduatesfromattendingthecoursesthey
reallywanttoattend,nevermindhavingdirectaccesstotenuredfac-
ultymembers;intheserespectssmall,highlyselectiveliberalartscol-
leges have an advantage, which is one reason that they have such
highgraduationrates.
Theseobservationsareintendedonlytosetthestageforthediscussionof
educationalattainmentthatistofollowbysuggestingthatinanalyzingout-
comesoftodaysundergraduatesattendingagshipuniversitiesitisnec-
essarytohaveinmindtherangeoffunctionstheseuniversitiesaremeant
toperformandthesometimesconictingpressuresthatbeatuponthem.
Wewanttoendthisrstchapterbyreiteratingthatthepurposeofthere-
searchreportedinthisbookisnotonlytoimproveourunderstandingof
patterns and relationships but alsoas a high priorityto search for
cluesaboutwaystomakeAmericascollegesanduniversitiesmoresuc-
cessfulinmovingenteringstudentsontograduation.Regrettably,ifnot
surprisingly,ourstudieshavenotledtothediscoveryofanysimplequick
xesormagicbullets.Manyofthepatternsweseeareremarkablycon-
sistentacrossinstitutionsandsettings,andmanyofthemresult,webe-
lieve,fromdeep-seatedfeaturesofAmericansocietythatwillnoteasily
yieldtoeffortstobringaboutchange.Muchpatiencewillberequired.
Nevertheless,ourworkhashelpedustoidentifyimportantstepsthat
collegesanduniversities,stategovernments,andthefederalgovernment
cantaketoimprovecollegeoutcomes,especiallyfordisadvantagedstu-
dents.Wealsobelievethatfocusingsharplyonlevelsofachievementand
successincollegemay,inandofitself,encourageuniversitiesandpolicy
makerstondnewwaystomakethingsbetter.Asrecentworkinthehos-
pitalindustryshows,simplydirectingattentiontoanentrenchedprob-
lem like hospital-borne infections can stimulate remedial actions at
the local level. Lasting improvements will surely require patience (rea-
sonablylongtimehorizons),determination,andwillingnesstobeguided
byevidenceaswellasthecapacitytoharvestthelow-hangingfruitas
promptlyaspossible.ButthegoalofhelpingmoreAmericansfromall
backgrounds complete college, in a timely way, is well worth the effort
thatwillberequired.