THE YEARS THAT MATTER MOST by Paul Tough

THE YEARS THAT MATTER MOST

How College Makes or Breaks Us
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A broad survey of the nature and role of the college experience.

In his latest book on education, Tough (How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, 2012, etc.) provides a common-sensical overview of the critical role the college years play in the course of the rest of life. It comes as little surprise that educational attainment, and the quality of that educational setting, is directly correlated with income. But what makes the author’s exploration of elite schools intriguing is the class analysis he brings to his discussion of who is admitted to the top schools and how they do once they get there. If a student was prepped for the experience at a boarding school or a high-performing high school, then the transition is likely to be a lot less overwhelming than for a first-generation college-goer or a low-income student. The book is fueled by anecdotal evidence, putting readers in the shoes of students navigating the cultural disruptions and emotionally wrenching times that attend social mobility. Tough closely scrutinizes one of the determinants of the college pecking order: the SAT and ACT tests. Again, the results are hardly a surprise. If you can afford an expensive tutor who explains that the tests are designed to measure your ability to take the tests, not your math or verbal skills, you have an advantage. The admissions process, with its “market-based dictates of enrollment management,” its predictive analytics and yield rates, has resulted in a situation where the admissions staff spend more time looking for low-performing, high-income students than the reverse: “That’s how they make their budget.” Still, while jobs available to those without a degree are routinely unstable and unreliable, the degree’s wage premium these days is chiefly insurance against moving downward. Thankfully, the author includes inspiring anecdotes about low-income students, which lightens the mostly bleak-looking landscape. Though offering little groundbreaking news, Tough clearly shows that college placement remains mostly about wealth at the expense of a collective educational environment.

A good choice for aspiring college students and their parents.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-544-94448-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2019




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