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Open Access Publications from the University of California

'Class'ifying Ethnicity/Race and Gender: An Intersectional Critique of Bachelor's Degree Completion Research


Over the past fifty years, postsecondary retention-oriented theory, research, policies, and programs have focused on the effect of singular demographic characteristics in isolation, namely gender or ethnicity/race. Given that this approach has not yielded significant decreases in completion disparities, this paper proposes an explicit incorporation of social class. Drawing on Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure, and using data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (96/01) data set the author shows that lack of attention to social class background (via socioeconomic status) may be severely inhibiting higher education’s ability to conceptualize and improve completion rates. This paper introduces critical race feminist theory as a paradigmatic perspective for use in models of degree completion and retention-related practice, and subsequently reviews extant research on bachelor’s degree completion, highlighting the clear, but complex relationship between ethnicity/race, gender, and socioeconomic status with a descriptive analysis. The author discusses the pervasive role of socioeconomic status for all ethnic/racial and gender groups in relation to six-year graduation rates, and how notions of intersectionality should be used to promote and reflect more demographically complex approaches to improve completion.

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