Socioeconomic segregation, campus social context, and disparities in bachelor’s degree attainment

Dafna Gelbgiser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


It is well established that students from differ ent socio eco nomic back-grounds attend different colleges, net of their academic preparation. An unintended consequence of these disparities is that in the aggregate, they enhance socioeconomic segregation across institutions of higher education, cultivating separate and distinct social environments that can influence students’ outcomes. Using information on the academic careers of a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students who entered college in the mid-2000s, matched with external information on the social context of each college, this study evaluates the extent of socioeconomic segregation by social context in higher education and its implications for socioeconomic inequality in bachelor’s degree attainment. Results confirm that social context is highly consequential for inequality in student outcomes. First, disparities in social context are extensive, even after differences in demographics, skills, attitudes, and college characteristics are accounted for. Second, the social context of campus, as shaped by segregation, is a robust predictor of students’ likelihood of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Finally, the degree attainment rates of all students are positively associated with higher concentra-tions of economic advantages on campus. Combined, these results imply that socioeconomic segregation across colleges exacerbates disparities in degree attainment by placing disadvantaged students in social environments that are least conducive to their academic success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1039-1064
Number of pages26
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021


FundersFunder number
Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University


    • Bachelor’s degree attainment
    • Campus social context
    • Postsecondary education
    • Socioeconomic inequality
    • Socioeconomic segregation


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