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

Won’t Lose This Dream is the inspiring story of a public university that has blazed an extraordinary trail for lower-income and first-generation students in downtown Atlanta, the birthplace of the civil rights movement.

Over the past decade Georgia State University has upended the conventional wisdom that large numbers of students are doomed to fail simply because of their economic background or the color of their skin. Instead, it has harnessed the power of big data to identify and remove the obstacles that previously stopped them from graduating and completely transformed their prospects. A student from a mediocre high school working two jobs to make ends meet is now no less likely to succeed than a child of wealth and privilege—an earth-shaking achievement that is reverberating across every college campus in the country.

With unique access to the key players and drawing on his skills as an investigative reporter, Andrew Gumbel delivers a thrilling, blow-by-blow account of a long battle to determine whether universities exist for their students or vice versa. The story is told through the visionary leaders who overcame fierce resistance to tear up the rules of their own institution and through the many remarkable students whose resilience and determination, often against daunting odds, inspired the work at every stage. Their success shows how the promise of social advancement through talent and hard work, the essence of the American dream, can be rekindled even in an age of deep inequalities and divisive politics.


“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
“Illuminating. . . . Gumbel tells the story with an eye to the consequences for individual students.”
Times Literary Supplement
“[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
“The months spent researching the details of GSU’s renaissance, especially the remarkable stories of its students, was an epiphany that comes through in Gumbel’s narrative style—unsentimental but inspired and urgent.”
Red Canary Magazine

News and Reviews

Author Interview

Read an interview an interview with author Andrew Gumbel.

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

Democracy Unchained
How to Rebuild Government for the People

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

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

Andrew Gumbel

Goodreads Reviews