Tag Archives: aspirations

Re-Imagining the Community College Experience

Over this past weekend I gave a talk at the University of California All Campus Consortium On Research for Diversity annual meeting entitled “Re-Imagining the Community College Experience.” It touched on a forthcoming book chapter and some work in progress, both of which stem from my dissertation research on 24 women who have attended community college. Below is the text of my talk.


A recurring problem in the sociological research on community colleges, if not the main problem, is that large numbers of community college students aspire to bachelor’s degrees while relatively few attain them. The most recent figures reported by Brand, Pfeffer, and Goldrick-Rab (2014: 448) are that “more than 80 percent of entering students say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only about 12 percent complete that degree within six years.” One approach to explaining this disparity has been to focus on student aspirations and how they intersect with the community college environment.

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College and the Theory of Moral Sentiments

Yesterday, Corey Robin posted on his blog a few lines from Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The snippet of text pointed out the long-standing tendency of people to disproportionately attribute virtue to the rich and powerful while condemning the poor as a consequence of their poverty. It struck a cord with many readers who tweeted it and posted it to Facebook in large numbers. For me, it was timely because I have been working on an academic article about the pursuit of virtue through college aspirations and the links between education, the increase in productive capacity, and the social good. With the spread of the college-for-all ideology, the relationship between class position and virtue runs through college.

Adam Smith noted that the tendency to attribute moral status based on class position was not a new phenomenon. As Robin already shared, Smith writes that, Continue reading

Rational Choice, Anti-Harvard Deviance, and the Imperative to Aspire

A few days ago the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) wrote a couple of tweets that resonated with my own work on community college students. She began by linking rational choice, college rankings, and white supremacy before following up with a comment about the relationship between aspirations and deviance.

I’m not entirely sure where her critiques are going to go from these statements alone. But an article I’m currently working takes up the matter of deviance from the other end, that of unmet ambitions. At least, it kind of does. Early research on community colleges by Burton Clark in the early 60s and later by Jerome Karabel and Stephen Brint in the 70s and 80s approached their subject from the general position laid out by Robert Merton in the 1950s: that ambitions much be managed if democratic societies want to avoid deviance and revolt. Continue reading