Institutional Impacts on Bachelor’s Degree Completion for the New Majority
Christina Ciocca Eller

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Columbia University

Primary Discipline

The rate of bachelor’s degree (BA) completion for lower-income and traditionally underrepresented minority students on average lags by 15 to 30 percentage points as compared to high-income and white peers. Scholars have identified college quality as an important contributor to this gap, focusing on whether highly selective institutions enhance disadvantaged students’ chances of BA completion. Yet colleges labeled “most selective” only enroll one-third of all four-year college-goers and disproportionately serve white and high- income students. Considering these statistics, and taking a cue from the substantial literature on “school effects,” my dissertation uses unique, high-quality data and multiple methodological approaches to demonstrate how postsecondary institutions impact students’ chances of BA completion – particularly low-income and traditionally underrepresented students. Specifically, I draw on longitudinal data from both administrative records and a yearlong interview study of the largest, urban, public university system in the US to make three major contributions. First, I analyze the effects of institution-level mechanisms on BA completion, including college characteristics (e.g., dollars spent per student) and students’ pathways within individual colleges (e.g., major field of study). Second, I determine how these mechanisms vary for particular groups of students, such as black and Latino males and first-generation college-goers. Third, I elucidate the effects of both social experiences and encounters with colleges’ organizational practices and policies in shaping student persistence. Through these contributions, I provide a theoretical, analytical, and policy-relevant template for examining BA completion, especially for colleges outside the “most selective” category.
About Christina Ciocca Eller
Christina Ciocca Eller is a doctoral candidate and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. Her research draws on both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze inequality in higher education, exploring how colleges and universities shape the opportunity structures and outcomes available to students. She is particularly interested in public, broad-access, four-year institutions and received the inaugural Graduate NYC Dissertation Fellowship in 2015-2016 to pursue her dissertation research within this context. Christina also has studied the school-to-work transition with a comparative, international perspective, resulting in a collaborative, forthcoming article in the American Journal of Sociology. Her work additionally has been recognized by the American Educational Research Association through the Maureen T. Hallinan Graduate Student Paper Award and by Columbia University through the Charles Tilly Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship Award. Christina received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, where she was valedictorian of the College class, and subsequently received graduate degrees in Women’s Studies and Management Research from the University of Oxford through support from the Timothy S. Healy Scholarship. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, she served as Chief Speechwriter and Communications Director for the president of Georgetown University.

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