Students don’t aim high enough for best colleges, research finds

Four years ago, two of the most influential researchers in higher education dove into a huge pool of data hoping to answer a bedeviling question: Why do so many students who start college fail to graduate?

They report their findings in a book out today, and perhaps the biggest is this: Students are settling for less selective schools they imagine will be easier, but where in fact they’re more likely to drop out.

In “Crossing the Finish Line,” William Bowen and Michael McPherson, former presidents of Princeton University and Macalester College, along with researcher Matthew Chingos, chime in on what many experts consider American higher education’s greatest weakness: college completion rates. By some measures, fewer than six in 10 entering college students complete a bachelor’s degree

The authors found the explanation was that the schools offered a more campus-focused experience. Students who lived in a residence hall their first semester were 7 to 8 percentage points more likely to graduate than those who lived off-campus