American Sociological Association

What’s Taking You So Long? Examining the Effects of Social Class on Completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Four Years

Despite improved access in expanded postsecondary systems, the great majority of bachelor’s degree graduates are taking considerably longer than the allotted four years to complete their four-year degrees. Taking longer to finish one’s BA has become so pervasive in the United States that it has become the norm for official statistics released by the Department of Education to report graduation rates across a six-year window. While higher education scholars have increasingly explored how social class impacts college dropout, attrition, and completion, they have yet to examine the role social class plays in completing a four-year bachelor’s degree on time. In this paper, we draw on the most recent cohort of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Survey (2008–2009) to examine who completes their bachelor’s degrees on time. Our results indicate that despite controlling for academic performance, educational behaviors, program characteristics, and institutional characteristics, graduates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do experience difficulties completing their degrees on time. Moreover, our results also reveal that the nature of these relationships vary for traditional and nontraditional students. Our findings highlight another important, albeit less obvious, way where inequality is maintained in expanded postsecondary systems.


David Zarifa, Jeannie Kim, Brad Seward, and David Walters





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