New book: Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, By William G. Bowen *58, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson (Princeton University Press)

The authors: Bowen, who served as Princeton's president from 1972 to 1988, is president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Chingos is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University, and McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, is president of the Spencer Foundation.

The thesis: Fewer than 60 percent of students who enter American four-year colleges graduate. Crossing the Finish Line looks at 21 flagship public universities and four statewide systems of public higher education to explore why this is happening and what can be done. The authors found, among other things, that minority students and students from poor families have markedly lower graduation rates and that financial aid has a significant impact on student retention.

Opening lines: "The subject of this book -- educational attainment in the United States -- could hardly be more timely. Academics, framers of public policy, and journalists are united in bemoaning the failure of the United States in recent years to continue building the human capital it needs to satisfy economic, social, and political needs."

Reviews: In Science magazine, reviewers Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser called the book "the most comprehensive look yet possible at the determinants of graduation rates -- and what might be done to improve them." David Leonhardt of The New York Times added that "[f]or 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."

On the Web: Watch a video interview with Bowen, from Princeton University Press.

(Photo courtesy Princeton University Press)