Won’t Lose This Dream

How an Upstart Urban University Rewrote the Rules of a Broken System

The extraordinary story of how Georgia State University tore up the rulebook for educating lower-income students

“Georgia State . . . has been reimagined—amid a moral awakening and a raft of data-driven experimentation—as one of the South’s more innovative engines of social mobility.”
The New York Times

Once just another unglamorous urban university, Georgia State University has become a place of miracles and wonders in the heart of Atlanta, the city that spawned the civil rights movement. GSU is a living experiment in the education of lower income students and a crucible in which the promise of social advancement through talent and hard work, the essence of the American Dream, is being rekindled in an age of deep inequality and political crisis.

More than any other institution in the country, Georgia State has overturned the assumption that poorer students are doomed to fail. Won’t Lose This Dream describes how the architects of Georgia State’s success harnessed the power of evolving data technologies, a “moneyball” strategy that helped them recognize and remove the obstacles that have held poor students back. Veteran journalist Andrew Gumbel uncovers the human stories behind these innovations, tracing real students as they realize lifelong dreams of graduating from college.

Today, a Georgia State freshman who arrives homeless and hungry is no less likely to succeed than the daughter of a billionaire. African American, Hispanic, and low-income students now graduate from GSU at rates equal to or higher than those of other students. In fact, GSU has raised its graduation rate to 55 percent in 2018 from 32 percent in 2003 and, since 2014, has awarded more bachelor’s degrees to African Americans than any other nonprofit college or university in the country. More than just a story about higher education, Won’t Lose This Dream is a tale that points the way to wholesale societal transformation.


“Drawing on extensive on-the-ground reporting, Gumbel offers a richly detailed narrative. . . . Required reading for education reformers seeking to broaden community connections and benefit minority constituencies.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Gumbel relies on clear analysis and rich anecdotes to explain how one school helped its students thrive. A superb work for anyone interested in higher education.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“Spreading Mark Becker’s high-tech and high-touch college completion model developed at Georgia State will become crucial to graduating the citizens and workers we need.”
—Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and co-author of The Merit Myth
“A must-read. . . . At a time when too many voices are questioning the value of higher education, this is a clarion call about the transformative power of college. Gumbel is a nimble storyteller, tackling the journey of Georgia State University, Tim Renick, and the student lives they have forever changed. This book should be required reading for anyone who cares about equity and the future of college education and our country.”
—Eric Waldo, executive director, Reach Higher, Michelle Obama’s education initiative
“[Gumbel] poignantly profiles the minority, low-income, and first-generation college students who form the bulk of Georgia State’s student body. . . . Accessible and inspirational, this enthusiastic account lays out a persuasive vision for reform. Educators and policy makers should consider it a must-read.”
Publishers Weekly
“[A] powerful story of institutional transformation that reminds us of these truths: Leadership matters. Institutional change is possible. Lack of money does not mean lack of talent. When barriers are removed, students thrive. Every educational leader in need of inspiration should read this book!”
—Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita, Spelman College, and author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations About Race
“It’s fitting that Won’t Lose This Dream begins with the story of a student overcoming life-threatening obstacles on the path to a college degree. Gumbel’s behind-the-scenes account of the rise of Georgia State University shows how Mark Becker, Tim Renick, and others made student success the university’s top priority—doubling graduation rates for African American students and eliminating racial disparities as a result—despite the risk of inertia and some opposition to the approach. The charge for higher education leaders is clear: scale up the moral courage and smart management required for colleges and universities to serve as engines of upward mobility, particularly for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, or else end up on the wrong side of history.”
—Dr. John B. King Jr., tenth U.S. secretary of education, president and CEO, The Education Trust

News and Reviews

Library Journal

Read a starred review of Won't Lose this Dream in Library Journal.

Publishers Weekly

Read a review of Won’t Lose This Dream in Publishers Weekly

Books by Andrew Gumbel

Down for the Count
Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America

Andrew Gumbel

Democracy Unchained
How to Rebuild Government for the People

David W. Orr, Andrew Gumbel, Bakari Kitwana, William S. Becker