Fields of Study and the Race Gap in College Graduation Likelihoods at 4-Year Elite Colleges

Dafna Gelbgiser, Cornell University
Sigal Alon, Tel Aviv University

While the representation of black students in elite colleges and universities increased dramatically since the mid-1960s, racial disparities in graduation likelihoods persist and remain an important policy concern. This study offers a structural explanation for racial disparities in graduation likelihoods: students’ chosen fields of study. We posit that fields of study are characterized by institutional arrangements that differently shape students’ academic achievements and graduation likelihoods. It follows that unequal distribution of black and white students across fields, and/or differences in the effect of fields on the graduation likelihoods of black and white students, may account for some of the race gap in graduation likelihoods. We use fixed-effects and HLM models on a large sample of students attending 4-year elite colleges in order to tease out the effect of fields of study on the race gap in college graduation likelihoods.

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Presented in Session 13: Gender, Race, Educational Attainment and the Returns to Education