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 worked 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 United States, but many students who aspire to earn a degree or transfer never do. I ask, what keeps students from moving in smooth and uninterrupted ways through community college? Using in-depth interviews with 45 students from two colleges, I identify that unpredictability in students' lives led 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 students' precarious circumstances may constrain them from benefitting from structural reforms such as guided pathways. 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 opportunity to millions of Americans, yet most students who begin community college leave without completing their goals. Research has acknowledged that students hold work, family, and financial commitments while in college. However, we lack a clear, fine-grained picture of how students manage these complex obligations and their strategies for making ends meet while attending college. This dissertation follows 30 community college students for two years to understand how they 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 are central to the contemporary community college experience. These findings suggest a need to understand students as embedded in their roles as workers and members of their households while in college and that policies aimed at improving community college student outcomes should focus on supporting students in managing their multiple roles.
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 gathered 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—shaped 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.
Work and the workforce
Poverty and inequality
MA in Sociology
University of California, Davis
PhD in Sociology
University of California, Davis
BA in Psychology summa cum laude
University of California, Santa Cruz