The College Dropout Scandal

Free college tuition is a hot topic these days. But what happens to students once they arrive on campus?

Here’s a hair-on-fire statistic: 40% of freshmen leave college without receiving a degree. “New gen” undergraduates—African-American and Latino students, those from poor families, and those who are the first in their families to go to college—fare even worse. The percentage of students who graduated in 1970 was higher than today. The cost, measured not just in dollars and cents but in stunted futures for millions of students, is incalculable.

The College Dropout Scandal reveals what colleges must do to move the needle on graduation and shrink the opportunity gap. Proven strategies—like quickly spotting and supporting students who are floundering—are not brain-surgery complicated and don’t break the bank. Big public institutions like City University of New York, Georgia State and Long Beach State are leading the way. David Kirp’s vivid, on-the-ground reporting and in-depth conversations with campus leaders, faculty and students show how colleges and universities like these have made student success their top priority. Students at these schools are receiving a first-rate education and many more of them are earning a diploma.

The College Dropout Scandal will kick-start a national conversation on the dropout crisis. Its message should prompt colleges nationwide to make student success a top priority, assuring that more undergraduates cross the finish line and keeping alive their hopes of achieving the American Dream.


“A remarkable new book on what hinders college completion.”
-Jay Mathews, Washington Post

“An illuminating new analysis….helpfully focuses on success stories.”
-Naomi Schaefer Riley, Wall Street Journal

“David Kirp reveals higher education’s dirty little secret—that 40 percent of college freshmen never make it to commencement, and many of these dropouts are worse off than if they hadn’t started college because they have a pile of debt and feel like failures. He also provides common-sense solutions to this—there’s no other word for it—scandal. A timely and hugely important book.”
—Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California Berkeley, and author of The Common Good

“This powerful book beautifully merges data and anecdote to explain that for far too many, college is not a gateway, but a trap. We as a society can and must do better, and The College Dropout Scandal shows us how.”
—Wes Moore, bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore, and CEO of Robin Hood

“David Kirp gives a spellbinding account of courageous universities that aggressively addressed the dropout problem —and he provides important insights into the principles they used to do it.”
—Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, Stanford University, and author of Mindset

“David Kirp makes a compelling case that what we have long construed as achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are really opportunity gaps grounded in entrenched inequalities.”
—Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Rutgers University-Newark