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Lesson Plan:
An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education
William G. Bowen & Michael S. McPherson

One of Bloomberg’s Best Books of 2016

Paperback | October 2017 | $18.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691178455
184 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 7 b/w illus., 4 tables
Hardcover | 2016 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691172101
184 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 7 line illus. 4 tables.
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American higher education faces some serious problems—but they are not the ones most people think. In this brief and accessible book, two leading experts show that many so-called crises—from the idea that typical students are drowning in debt to the belief that tuition increases are being driven by administrative bloat—are exaggerated or simply false. At the same time, many real problems—from the high dropout rate to inefficient faculty staffing—have received far too little attention. In response, William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson provide a frank assessment of the biggest challenges confronting higher education and propose a bold agenda for reengineering essential elements of the system to meet them. The result promises to help shape the debate about higher education for years to come.

Lesson Plan shows that, for all of its accomplishments, higher education today is falling short when it comes to vital national needs. Too many undergraduates are dropping out or taking too long to graduate; minorities and the poor fare worse than their peers, reinforcing inequality; and college is unaffordable for too many. But these problems could be greatly reduced by making significant changes, including targeting federal and state funding more efficiently; allocating less money for "merit aid" and more to match financial need; creating a respected “teaching corps” that would include nontenure faculty; improving basic courses in fields such as math by combining adaptive learning and face-to-face teaching; strengthening leadership; and encouraging more risk taking. It won't be easy for faculty, administrators, trustees, and legislators to make such sweeping changes, but only by doing so will they make it possible for our colleges and universities to meet the nation’s demands tomorrow and into the future.

William G. Bowen (1933-2016) was president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University and founding chairman of ITHAKA.. His many books included The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (with Derek Bok) (Princeton). Michael S. McPherson is president of the Spencer Foundation, former president of Macalester College, and the author of many books. Bowen, McPherson, and Matthew M. Chingos are the authors of Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities (Princeton).


"Bachelor's degrees should be completed in three years. MOOCs should replace general education. Coding boot camps are the game changer. College should be free. Internships are more important than instruction. Eliminate administrative bloat and higher education will be prosperous. Pick your quick fix for higher education, but it won't be endorsed in Lesson Plan, a new book by William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson. They make clear early in the book that while higher education has serious problems, they find most punditry and political proposals for higher education to be wrong."--Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed

"A masterly summary of the state of higher education…. [Bowen and McPherson] bring together current research, broad conversations with experts, and their own perspective in a brilliant, coherent explanation of their conviction that academia continues to be a vital investment in human capital…. A must-read for everyone concerned about price and quality in higher education."--Library Journal

"Lesson Plan [is] a concise, compelling, and, at times, courageous analysis of the ways in which institutions of higher education are failing to provide equal opportunity and lay out an ambitious reform agenda."--Glenn Altschuler, Huffington Post

"I recommend [this book] to anyone who wants a better understanding of the problems in higher education in the US, and especially to anyone who is working in higher education and wants to contribute to improving it."--Harry Brighouse, Crooked Timber

"A short, yet disarmingly rich and precise, primer on higher-education policy and its compelling relevance for the future of our economy and democracy…. [C]ombines the precision born of encyclopedic knowledge with the plain-spoken prose of experts for whom policy analysis is second nature."--Clayton Spencer, Harvard Magazine

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Table of Contents:

Preface and Acknowledgments vii
PART I: Prelude 1
PART II: Pressing National Needs 11
Achieving Higher Levels of Educational Attainment 11
Raising College Completion Rate in the United States 21
Reducing Time-to-Degree 31
Reducing Disparities in Outcomes by Socioeconomic Status and Race or Ethnicity 34
Achieving Affordability 46
Strengthening Leadership Capacities 61
PART III: An Agenda for Change 73
Governmental Funding—Apart from Student Aid 73
Payments by Individuals—and Student Aid (Including Loans) 87
Increasing Efficiency 106
Putting High-Profile College Sports in Proper Perspective 118
Rationalizing Staffing: Supporting the Development of a “Teaching Corps” 121
Improving Teaching through Technology: Adaptive Learning 126
Enabling Stronger Leadership 134
References 141
Index 153

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by William G. Bowen:

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Michael S. McPherson:


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