New Books to Read on Higher Education

Each admissions cycle families ask me to recommend books on higher education and the college admissions process. Here are a few 2022 releases I look forward to reading this year:

The Real World of College: What Higher Education Is and What It Can Be by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Due out in February, this book from MIT Press is the result of an eight-year study that included both quantitative and qualitative analyses. The authors conducted hour-long interviews with over 2000 college students, alumni, faculty, administrators, parents, and trustees at ten institutions ranging from highly selective liberal arts colleges to less-selective state schools. They found that students are primarily concerned about their grades and future job prospects rather than learning for the sake of learning. The authors argue that “to survive and thrive, higher education must focus sharply on its unique mission—developing the mind to the fullest.” As a strong believer in a classic liberal arts education, I am excited to read this book.

Becoming Great Universities: Small Steps for Sustained Excellence by Richard J Light and Allison Jegla

Due out in April, this book from Princeton University Press describes ten core challenges all colleges and universities face and offers concrete, practical steps stakeholders—from college presidents to first-year undergraduates—can take to solve them. The authors address how to build a culture of innovation on campus, how to improve learning outcomes through experimentation, how to help students from under-resourced high schools succeed in college, and how to attract students from rural areas who may not be considering colleges far from their communities. I know from working with high school students how excited they are for college, which makes me excited to learn how they can make an impact on their campuses from day one.

Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do about It by Colin Diver

Due out in April, this book from Johns Hopkins University Press argues that “by forcing colleges into standardized “best-college” hierarchies, rankings have threatened the institutional diversity, intellectual rigor, and social mobility that is the genius of American higher education.” The author provides guidance about how students and families can get beyond rankings and offers insight into what is most useful and important in evaluating colleges. I know from working with students and families how much emphasis some place on these rankings, and I look forward to learning how to better to steer them away from a ranking system that is clearly flawed.

The Channels of Student Activism: How the Left and Right Are Winning (and Losing) in Campus Politics Today by Amy K. Binder and Jeffrey L. Kidder

Due out in May, this book from the University of Chicago Press studies “how politically engaged college students from the left, right, and center are making sense of this particular moment in American history.” The authors contend students on the left feel supported by their universities while those on the right feel isolated and unsupported. They connect student activism on campuses to the broader political landscape in the US and discuss what the impact of this will be on the future of American politics. As a recent Generation Lab/Axios poll showed, college students can be unwilling to be friends with students who do not share their political beliefs, and I hope this book helps me better understand this trend.

A Problem of Fit: How the Complexity of College Pricing Hurts Students—and Universities by Phillip B. Levine 

Due out in May, this book, also from the University of Chicago Press, addresses the complexity around college pricing. While colleges list their “sticker” price, “uncovering the actual price—the one after incorporating financial aid—can be difficult for students and families.” Levine discusses the importance of transparency and “how the opacity of our current college-financing systems is a primary driver of inequities in education and society.” Financial fit is a critical part of building college lists, and I look forward to learning more about how to advise families about the true cost of college.

Other People’s Colleges: The Origins of American Higher Education Reform by Ethan W. Ris

Due out in June, this book, another from the University of Chicago Press, provides a historical perspective to contemporary efforts to reform higher education. Ris argues that colleges and universities have learned how to successfully resist change, a “legacy that affects every college and university in the United States.” As a former history major, I look forward to learning how colleges have reacted to reform efforts over time, especially since most contemporary scholars agree that colleges are at an inflection point today, and only those that are nimble and adaptable will survive.


Kate Sonnenberg is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia University School of Law. Prior to launching KS College Success, she worked in the Princeton University Admissions Office, where she read and evaluated thousands of undergraduate applications. Kate also volunteered for nearly a decade with the Princeton Alumni Schools Committee and chaired the committee that interviewed students in northern New Jersey. She has taught writing at the undergraduate and graduate school level and is certified in the Wow Method, the leader in college essay coach training.

College OpenSource

Sign up for a free membership below. Receive offers, college news and information about upcoming events that will help you make the right choice.

College OpenSource does not sell email addresses to colleges or other organizations.

By registering for an account, you acknowledge and accept the User Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy governing use of College OpenSource.