New! Automatic Admissions Policies and Segregation

My new article in EEPA (free pre-print version HERE) examines unintended effects of Automatic Admissions Policies (AAPs, a.k.a. “percent plans”). AAPs leverage high school racial segregation to diversify state university admissions by guaranteeing students above a class rank threshold (e.g., top 10%) in their high school admission to state universities. People may respond by “gaming” the policy, choosing less academically competitive high schools. Given stereotypes about predominantly minority schools being less competitive, white students could become more prone to attend those schools, which could reduce segregation but threaten to undermine the ability to reduce racial inequality in college-going opportunities.

I find some evidence that AAPs in Texas and California led to declines in segregation in highly segregated districts, but maybe not on a scale to severely undermine the policy. This highlights the complex relationship between segregation and equality of opportunity, and the need to attend to the ways students sort across schools in response to egalitarian policies. More info here:

Experiment on Social Capital and Achievement

In a new paper out at Sociology of Education, “Social Capital and Student Achievement: An Intervention-Based Test of Theory” (free pre-print version here), Adam Gamoran, Hannah Miller, Jessa Valentine, and I used a field experiment to examine the effects of social capital on elementary school students’ academic achievement. The Families and Schools Together (FAST) intervention was randomly assigned to schools and implemented for two cohorts of first graders. Although the intervention built sustained relationships among parents (what James Coleman called intergenerational closure), we found no evidence of any impact on math or reading test scores at the end of third grade. Read more here or check out the article at the links above.

Relational Segregation

I have a new theoretical article at Sociological Theory (free pre-print version here). It lays out themes for a relational perspective of segregation, which challenges some of our common assumptions about what causes segregation and how it affects social life. It includes “A Rant on Homophily,” Aesop’s Fables, and some interesting historical examples of medieval European religious relations and U.S. race relations. You can also read more about it on my segregation page. Hope you’ll check it out!

UNC and Nikole Hannah-Jones

I went to UNC as an undergrad (class of ’06). I loved it instantly and ever sense. Great people from all walks of life and from all over the world, great ideas and brilliant thinkers, and great basketball. It was never a perfect institution, but it seemed like as close to perfect as an institution could get for me.

I am saddened and embarrassed by the ongoing debacle surrounding Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure case. Given Nikole Hannah-Jones’s exceptional professional accomplishments, the impact of her work on the public (and in my own sociological research on school segregation), and the widespread reports that the academic experts charged with assessing her work judged her to be easily worthy of tenure, it is inescapable that her tenure case was derailed by some combination of racism and political suppression. This is an embarrassment to UNC and a threat to academic freedom and freedom of the press everywhere. 

This has made me realize more than ever that UNC was near-perfect for me while (and because) students and faculty of color were putting up with hostility and discrimination that I didn’t fully grasp at the time. The UNC professor who impacted me the most, who inspired me to be an academic, and who has supported me ever since is a black woman. I can’t stop thinking about all that she and many other students, faculty, and staff likely put up with while they were contributing so much to make UNC a special place. I can only hope that, going forward, and starting with a fair outcome in the Hannah-Jones tenure case, UNC can be accountable for its shortcomings and work to be better for everyone.

I sent a longer and more personal version of this to the Board of Trustees ( and the Office of Faculty Governance ( I hope you will consider doing so too if you have a connection to UNC. 

UA Sociology Black Lives Matter Statement

UA Sociology Statement on Black Lives Matter

The School of Sociology at the University of Arizona condemns the white supremacy, institutionalized racism, and state-sanctioned violence responsible for the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and thousands of other Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. Black lives matter.


New Findings on “The Great Equalizer”

In a new article in Sociology of Education (free pre-print version here), I look at the old idea that education “breaks the link” between people’s socioeconomic background as children and their own prospects as adults.

I find that this link (the intergenerational income elasticity) is strongest—and that intergenerational economic mobility is lowest—among high school dropouts. This means that, for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the usual penalty for dropping out is compounded by the fact that their lack of family-based resources matters more than it would if they earned a degree. Conversely, dropouts from advantaged backgrounds can use their family-based resources to compensate for the lack of a degree.

Earning a high school degree or more seems to weaken these family background effects.