Course description

This course examines the structure and dynamics of the "non-system" of higher education in the US in historical and comparative perspective. Focusing on patterns of access, graduation, and allocation into the labor market, the course examines changes over time and how these vary at different types of institutions and cross-nationally. Issues of culture, diversity (especially with respect to class, race/ethnic, and gender), and programming will be examined. The main theoretical debates revolve around the relationship between higher education and the society (does it reproduce or transform social structure) in which it is embedded. Prerequisites: at least one social science course or permission of instructor.

[-Bryn Mawr College website)

course goals

By the end of this course, students should be able to critically, theoretically, and practically analyze historical and present issues in higher education; as well as collaborate effectively on developing solutions.

course format

Class will meet once a week for three hours. We will break up class into two halves (with a 10-15 minute break in the middle). The format of the two halves of the class will change depending upon the subject matter and how we would like to cover it. Students may choose to present on topics about which they care deeply, and the professor may choose to invite guest stars to help the class better understand the material.

Everything you need for this course is online — here, on Moodle, and on Box.

course requirements


This course will be graded on a 0.0 - 4.0 scale.

By the end of the month, you will each submit, via Moodle, a grade contract indicating how much you want each of the following three parts of your grade to be worth. Each must vary within the bounds indicated below, and the total must add up to 100%.

If you would like to change this ratio halfway through the semester, you must submit a revised form to me, also via Moodle, at that time.

[10-30]% Participation

There are a number of different ways to participate. First, you need to be in class (i.e., attendance). You can then participate by (1) asking questions in lecture, (2) participating in a small group discussion, or (3) a whole class discussion. You can (4) elect to lead class discussions on a topic of interest to you (please email me at least one full week in advance before you’d like to do this).

[20-50]% Class journal

Starting in Week 2, you are required to write one class journal entry per week (excluding spring break). Each entry (typed in the template I provide) should be a 300 - 500 words personal engagement with the class material for that week. You must demonstrate that you and your brain have interacted with class materials and, ideally, classmates that week. Conciseness is better. Write well — spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style all count.

example | journal entry to process connections among class readings

example | journal entry to debrief from class discussion

example | journal entry to tie class materials to current events or

[30-70]% Final project

You will write a ten (10) page white paper (an in-depth, well-researched paper that presents a specific social problem as well as a carefully chosen prospective solution to that social problem) on an issue facing your institution of higher education, and then propose a solution to solve said problem. You will write about a timely issue in a persuasive, concise way, using evidence to support your argument and your ask.

This is a take-home, open-book, open-note, that requires you to do research with outside class materials. You may begin this project at any time in the semester. Because of the open-ended nature of the final, there are almost no conceivable reasons (only very serious ones) that you would need an extension, so I will only accept official requests for extensions from deans.

I reserve the right to amend this syllabus.




Week 1 | course review

F 25 January | attendance is required

Week 2 | what is the purpose of higher education?

F 1 February | turn in class journal (1/11) by midnight tonight


  • Stevens, M., E. Armstrong, and R. Arum. 2008. “Sieve, Incubator, Temple, Hub: Empirical and Theoretical Advances in the Sociology of Higher Education.” Annual Review of Sociology 34:127-151.

  • Neckerman, K., P. Carter, and J. Lee. 1999. “Segmented Assimilation and Minority Cultures of Mobility.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(6):945-965.

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. “The Forms of Capital.” Pp. 241–58 in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J Richardson. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

  • Kao, Grace. 2004. “Social Capital and Its Relevance to Minority and Immigrant Populations.” Sociology of Education 77(2):172–75.

Week 3 | epistemology and evaluation

F 8 February | turn in class journal (2/11) by midnight tonight

read at least two of the following

  • Zuberi, Tukufu and Eduardo Bonilla Silva. 2001. White Logic, White Methods. chs. 1, 5, + 6.

  • DeVault, Marjorie. 1990. “Talking and Listening from Women’s Standpoint: Feminist Strategies for Interviewing and Analysis.” Social Problems 37(1):96-116.

  • Praslova, Ludmila. 2010. “Adaptation of Kirkpatrick’s Four Level Model of Training Criteria to Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Program Evaluation in Higher Education.” Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability 22(3):215–25.

  • Mizikaci, Fatma. 2006. “A Systems Approach to Program Evaluation Model for Quality in Higher Education.” Quality Assurance in Education 14(1):37–53.

Week 4 | college, money, information, and access

Please note: my classroom and office are hell-free zones.

F 15 February | turn in class journal (3/11) by midnight tonight

read at least two of the following journal articles

  • Belley, P. and L. Lochner. 2007. “The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement.” Journal of Human Capital 1(1):37-89.

  • Chen, R. and S. Desjardins. 2010. “Investigating the Impact of Financial Aid on Student Dropout Risks: Racial and Ethnic Differences.” The Journal of Higher Education 81(2):179–208.

  • Baker, T. and W. Vélez. 1996. “Access to Opportunity in Postsecondary Education in the United States: A Review.” Sociology of Education Special Issue:82-101.

  • O’Connor, Noga, Floyd M. Hammack, and Marc Scott. 2010. “Social Capital, Financial Knowledge, and Hispanic Student College Choices.” Research in Higher Education 51:195–219.

  • Hurtado, S., K. Inkelas, C. Briggs, and B. Rhee. 1997. “Differences in College Access and Choice Among Racial/Ethnic Groups: Identifying Continuing Barriers.” Research in Higher Education 38(1):43–75.

Week 5 | The “Secret” COSTS OF FINANCIAL AID

F 22 February | turn in class journal (4/11) by midnight tonight


Goldrick-Rab, Sara. 2016. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


F 1 March | turn in class journal (5/11) by midnight tonight

read one of the following books

  • “non-traditional[-aged] students” is a misnomer | Perna, Laura. 2010. Understanding the Working College Student: New Research and Its Implications for Policy and Practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

  • education as segregation, erasure, and social sedimentation | Macdonald, Victoria-María. 2004. Latino Education in the United States: A Narrated History from 1513-2000. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

  • campus diversity isn’t for the “diverse” | Aries, Elizabeth, and Ari Berman. 2012. Speaking of Race and Class: the Student Experience at an Elite College. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

  • if you think college isn’t capitalism, think again | McMillan Cottom, Tressie. 2018. Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. New York, NY: The New Press.

Week 7 | community colleges

F 8 March | turn in class journal (6/11) by midnight tonight


  • Bailey, T., and E. Weininger. 2002. “Performance, Graduation, and Transfer of Immigrants and Natives in City University of New York Community Colleges.” New York, NY: Columbia University Community College Research Center.

  • Wassmer, R., C. Moore, and N. Shulock. 2004. “Effect of Racial/Ethnic Composition on Transfer Rates in Community Colleges: Implications for Policy and Practice.” Research in Higher Education 45(6):651–72.

also tonight | submit grade proportion choices on moodle

Week 8 | Spring Break

Week 9 | elite institutions

F 22 March | turn in class journal (7/11) by midnight tonight


selected chapters in

Karabel, J. 2005. The Chosen. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Week 10 | no such thing as a meritocracy

F 29 March | turn in class journal (8/11) by midnight tonight

read at least two of the following journal articles

  • Chambers, Terah Venzant. 2009. “The ‘Receivement Gap’: School Tracking Policies and the Fallacy of the ‘Achievement Gap.’” The Journal of Negro Education 78(4):417–31.

  • Tseng, V. 2004. “Family Interdependence and Academic Adjustment in College: Youth From Immigrant and US-Born Families.” Child Development 75(3):966–83.

  • Titus, M. 2004. “An Examination of the Influence of Institutional Context on Student Persistence at 4-Year Colleges and Universities: a Multilevel Approach.” Research in Higher Education 45(7):673–699.

  • Small, M. and C. Winship. 2007. “Black Students’ Graduation from Elite Colleges: Institutional Characteristics and Between-Institution Differences.” Social Science Research 36:1257–75.

  • Harris, Angel, Kenneth, and Monica Trujillo. 2008. “Disparities in the Educational Success of Immigrants: An Assessment of the Immigrant Effect for Asians and Latinos.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 620:90–114.

Week 11 | post-college outcomes

F 5 April | turn in class journal (9/11) by midnight tonight

read at least two of the following

  • Haveman, R., and T. Smeeding. 2006. “The Role of Higher Education in Social Mobility.” The Future of Children 16(2):125–50.

  • Hershbein, B. 2016. “A College Degree is Worth Less if you are Raised Poor.” Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

  • Hanson, S. 1994. “Lost Talent: Unrealized Educational Aspirations and Expectations among U.S. Youths.” Sociology of Education 67:159–83.

  • Trostel, P. 2009. “The Fiscal Impacts of College Attainment.” Research in Higher Education 51(3):220–47.

  • Rivera, Lauren A. 2011. “Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion: Elite Employers’ Use of Educational Credentials.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 29:71–90.

  • Perna, Laura W. 2004. “Understanding the Decision to Enroll in Graduate School: Sex and Racial/Ethnic Group Differences.” The Journal of Higher Education 75(5):487–527.

  • Pascarella, Ernest T., Christopher Pierson, Gregory Wolniak, and Patrick Terenzini. 2004. “First-Generation College Students: Additional Evidence on College Experiences and Outcomes.” The Journal of Higher Education 75(3):249–84.

Week 12 | NO CLASS

Please note that we will not have class today. I have assigned a book to read to help you write your final, but you should not write a class journal for this week.



Becker, Howard. 1986. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

also tonight | submit revised grade proportion preferences on moodle (if you want to revise them)

Week 13 | the academic precariat : graduate students and contingent faculty

F 19 April | turn in class journal (10/11) by midnight tonight


  • Alvarez, Maximillian. 2017. “The Poverty of Theory: Contingent No More.” The Baffler. read hyperlinked material as well []

  • Battistoni, Alyssa, et al. 2016. “After Columbia.” N+1. []

Week 14 | power and change : trustees, administrators, and staff

F 26 April | turn in class journal (11/11) by midnight tonight


  • revisit The Chosen

  • revisit N+1 article from last week, and any others you finding interesting and relevant to today’s topic

  • search your own institution’s news archives for information on a previous incident with leadership (e.g., the Board of Trustees, the President, the C-Suite, the Dean of the College, the Provost) that you would like to know more about

  • find out how your institution made a serious change — started or stopped a policy and/or a program — in recent memory (5 Ws of reporting) - make and keep your own brief notes to share your findings in class

Week 15 | Final Workshop



Bring working outlines or drafts of your final assignments (white papers presenting a problem and solution at your own institution of higher education) and help each other work through preliminary rough patches.

Week 16 | finals week

F 10 May 12:00 pm | Final assignments for all students (not just seniors) are due on Moodle