Back to School

Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education

The book that educator and MacArthur fellow Deborah Meier called “very important and mind-shifting,” illuminating the issues faced by millions of “nontraditional” college students

“Mike Rose shines a light on institutions that are teaching students, young and old, how to rebuild our economy and put America back to work.” —President Bill Clinton

It’s a statistic that’s sure to surprise: close to 45 percent of postsecondary students in the United States today do not enroll in college directly out of high school and many attend part time. Following a tradition of self-improvement as old as the Republic, the “nontraditional” college student is becoming the norm. Back to School is the first book to look at the schools that serve a growing population of “second-chancers,” exploring what higher education—in the fullest sense of the term—can offer our rapidly changing society and why it is so critical to support the institutions that make it possible for millions of Americans to better their lot in life, in a work that Make magazine calls “optimistic yet simultaneously realistic.”

In the anecdotal style of his bestselling Possible Lives, Mike Rose crafts rich and moving vignettes of people in tough circumstances who find their way; who get a second . . . or third . . . or even fourth chance; and who, in a surprising number of cases, reinvent themselves as educated, engaged citizens. Chapters treat topics from remedial education and bridging the academic-vocational divide to the economic and social benefits of returning to school, the importance of second-chance education for democracy, and the college-for-all debate. Throughout, Rose combines what Education Digest calls “rich and moving vignettes of people in tough circumstances who find their way” with what Publishers Weekly calls “highly practical areas for improvement in higher ed, such as orientation programs, occupational schools, physical campus layouts, and pedagogical training for new teachers.”



“Mike Rose gets it. We either close the monstrous gap between academic study and skilled trades, or we fall into it. Back to School is a second chance not just for those individuals who need one, but for civilized life as we know it.”
—Mike Rowe, creator and executive producer of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs
“Rose’s idealism is the best kind: informed, tough-minded, self-aware. Those of us who inhabit lives on the cushier side of the educational boundary should honor, and act upon, his profoundly democratic spirit.”
The Cutting Edge News
Kirkus Reviews
“At a time when more and more are flocking back to the hallowed halls of the university in search of re-training and more substantial resumes, famed educator and professor Rose (Possible Lives) rethinks the role of college in American social and political life, proffering moving arguments for higher education reform. As enrollment rosters grow longer, government funding becomes harder to come by, and in keeping with the effects of the ongoing recession, it’s the have-nots that are being hit the hardest. Rose himself was a rebellious student who was given, years ago, a second chance by a dedicated teacher, and he packs his newest with similarly triumphant case studies of pupils who made good—as he writes in the preface, ‘This is a book about people in tough circumstances who find their way.’ While telling these individuals’ stories, Rose explores highly practical areas for improvement in higher ed., such as orientation programs, occupational schools, physical campus layouts, and pedagogical training for new teachers. Those working in secondary education would be remiss to ignore these crucial lessons.”
Publishers Weekly
“Thoughtful and surprising.”
The Washington Post
Back to School opened my eyes. It forced me to dig through my own beliefs about whom contemporary higher education is for and why, and how we might best re-craft it for learners who desire it deeply.”
—Anna Neumann, The Journal of Higher Education

News and Reviews

In Memoriam

Read a remembrance of award-winning writer and educator Mike Rose.

Books by Mike Rose

Why School?
Reclaiming Education for All of Us

Mike Rose

Goodreads Reviews