On the Verge: College Life in an Era of Precarity
Beth Hart

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Davis

Primary Discipline

Community colleges are poised to reduce income inequality, yet few students complete community college credentials or transfer to four-year colleges and universities. An abundance of research describes how on-campus experiences shape completion, but this research fails to account for the role of students' external obligations in inhibiting college success. How do students, who need to complete college to earn decent wages, square their higher education goals with work, family, and financial obligations? This longitudinal qualitative study draws on 120 interviews conducted with 30 community college students over two years to investigate how students cope with and respond to external obligations while in college. Drawing on theories of precarity and instability, I argue that nonacademic experiences are key to understanding college completion. I find that instability is a fundamental feature in students' nonacademic experiences and how students respond to uncertainty differs by race, social class, gender, and the types of obligations they must manage while in college. These different strategies and practices often result in unequal outcomes, including course failure and withdrawal, stymied academic progress, and dropout, that reproduce social stratification. In building this analysis, I extend and build theories of college completion and 21st century precariousness, illustrating how students cope and come to grips with the increasing precarity of their lives.
About Beth Hart
Beth Ann Hart is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Davis and a fellow at the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research and the UC Riverside Blum Initiative on Global and Regional Poverty. Her research examines the question: why do so many students who begin community college leave without a credential? Beth draws on a variety of qualitative methods and theories about precarity, poverty, and emerging adulthood to understand students' lives outside college and the barriers they face to upward mobility. Her work has been featured in Teachers College Record and Social Service Review. Beth attended Berkeley City College before transferring to UC Santa Cruz, where she earned a B.A. in Psychology summa cum laude.

Pin It on Pinterest