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The Years That Matter Most

A review of Paul Tough's new book
Nov | 11 | 2019


Nov | 11 | 2019

Paul Tough’s book The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us paints a decidedly mixed picture of how higher ed works. For some, it’s the ticket to a better life. For others, though, it’s a high-risk gamble that may well not pay off. If you think that race and class complicate matters, trust your instincts.

I particularly enjoyed his tale of David Laude at UT – Austin. His hard work resulted in real changes in graduation rates—against a backdrop of a clueless Texas governor who shamefully believes that students are customers. Beyond that, Tough’s exploration of the admissions process and its painful economics was especially enlightening. Those with idealistic goals often have to compromise in the fact of fiscal realities.

Higher Ed: A Mixed Bag

I wish that Tough covered the struggles of well-intentioned faculty attempting to overcome internal politics and constraints. Plenty of intelligent and hard-working faculty eventually pack their bags.1 Still, his is a text about students, not professors, and I am much more informed about the mechanics of higher ed than before.

I also like how Tough ends his book: By reminding us of the GI Bill’s intent to make education a public good, not a private one. Demagogues and poorly informed politicians would do well to remember this fact.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Click here for more on the book.


  1. Hence the rise of quit lit.

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