Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Jason C. Garvey

Second Advisor

Janis Fook


Within the US, higher education is viewed as a stepping stone to economic and social mobility, where the promise of improved socioeconomic outcomes continues to draw many students to enroll despite the increasing cost of attendance (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). The implicit (and sometimes even explicit) promise is that a post-secondary degree is a pathway to upward mobility for all individuals. Yet, higher education is not a monolith, nor are the students attending a homogenous population. Students experience differential outcomes based on their demographics (Baum et al., 2013), as well as institutional type (Thompson, 2019). The purpose of this study is to further illuminate the ways higher education institutions might influence students’ post-graduation outcome, specifically intergenerational mobility.

The current study examines the impact of higher education at both the institutional level and the individual level. This study uses data from the Baccalaureate and Beyond 08/12 national study, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and Opportunity Insights. Multilevel structural equation modeling and latent class analysis were used to examine the influence of institutional quality, peer environment, and compositional racial diversity on intergenerational mobility rates and graduates socioeconomic outcomes.

At the institutional level the findings reveal that the measures of institutional quality and peer environment were associated with lower levels of intergenerational mobility, while higher percentages of faculty and staff of color were associated with higher levels. At the individual level graduates grouped into meaningful classes based on socioeconomic indicators. These groupings were influenced by institutional quality one year after graduation but were only influenced by the institutions’ intergenerational mobility rate both one and four years after graduation. Explanations for the results are offered as well as implications for policy and practice to consider how higher education can provide greater opportunity for mobility.



Number of Pages

313 p.