My research examines the question: why do so many students who begin community college leave without a credential? I draw 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.
I work with a multidisciplinary team of undergraduate research assistants to edit interview transcripts and track detailed, confidential participant information. UC Davis profiled our research group here.
Hanging In, Stopping Out, Dropping Out: Community College Students in an Era of Precarity
Community colleges educate one third of undergraduates in the U.S., but many students who aspire to earn a degree or transfer never do. This research asks, what keeps students from moving in smooth and uninterrupted ways through community college? I draw on in-depth interviews with 45 students from two colleges to identify how unpredictability in students' lives leads them to engage in "security work" (Cooper 2014), managing income flow, care of families, and basic needs along with their academic goals. I find that due to their precarious circumstances, students may be constrained from benefitting from structural reforms such as guided pathways. This research builds on structural models by examining the conditions and constraints under which students endeavor to succeed in the community college. This research appeared in Teachers College Record in 2019.
Running in Place: How Work, Family, and Income Instability Keep Students from Finishing Community College
Dissertation committee: Vicki Smith (Chair), Caitlin Patler, Michal Kurlaender, Sara Goldrick-Rab
Community colleges have opened up college opportunity to millions of Americans, yet many students who begin community college leave without a credential. Although it is widely recognized that students’ academic preparation and the organization of community colleges shapes their success, we lack a clear picture of the role of students’ work, financial, and family obligations in shaping their college experiences and trajectories. This research follows 30 community college students for two years to determine how students manage their competing commitments, how different types of obligations reinforce and interact with one another, and how students believe these processes impact their academic success. I show how family responsibilities and student employment and central to the contemporary community college experience, and how the institutional environment of the community college shapes students’ postsecondary pathways. These findings extend existing research about higher education, sociological theories of precarity, and emerging adulthood. This research was funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation.
Succeeding against All Odds: Cultivating Human Capital in a Community College
Technical education programs have the potential to help adults gain training and education to enter growing fields, earn high wages, and become upwardly mobile. Despite the potential payoff to these degrees, few studies have examined the process of choosing majors and enrolling in technical education programs. This project (with April Yee, PhD) draws on interviews with prospective community college students and program faculty and administrators to understand the types and sources of information that community college students utilize when making major decisions and how the community college shapes that process. We find that students gather information in ad-hoc and informal ways from poor and working-class family members, hands-on work experiences, and personal interactions with healthcare providers. We also find that institutionalized practices—such as lottery systems, admission caps, and prerequisites—shape students’ choices, ultimately excluding and delaying students from realizing the benefits of occupational degrees and certificates. This research received funding from the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.
University of California, Davis
University of California, Davis
University of California, Santa Cruz
B.A., Psychology summa cum laude