“Field of Study” Segregation Limits College Students’ Educational and Job Opportunities

by Vins

Earning a college degree creates opportunities for higher income and upward economic mobility. However, an August 2022 report, produced by Georgetown University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, shows how “field of study” segregation by race and gender limits many students’ access to higher paying occupations.

As the Hechinger Report explained in a September 2022 article, based on the Georgetown study, field of student segregation refers to “the shares of different demographic groups that pursue different college majors.”

The Georgetown report, titled “From Exclusion to Opportunity,” found that, by the time students enroll in a college major, they are “already segregated across fields of study by gender and race,” and colleges and universities do little to “interrupt this initial segregation.” Black and Brown women in particular are “structurally excluded” from fields such business, computer science, and engineering, the study found.

As the Hechinger Report noted, “Colleges alone don’t cause occupational segregation,” but the Georgetown study’s authors said that colleges and universities must do more to address it. The Georgetown study emphasized four principles to decrease the field of study segregation experienced by structurally excluded students: Every field of study should be financially affordable, inclusive and supportive, provide opportunities for “career-connected learning and experience,” and use data to provide more equitable outcomes for all students.

The study highlighted Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black university in New Orleans, as a model of “best practices for inclusive and supportive fields of study,” including especially its support of students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “Xavier ushers Black students toward careers in STEM by building in support and mentorship, and making it easier for students to get experience that is relevant to their career goals,” Olivia Sanchez wrote for the Hechinger Report.

The university provides training to boost its faculty’s mentoring and advising skills, and it encourages professors to work with students as research assistants. These research jobs “address both the affordability and work experience recommendations that the Georgetown report’s authors suggest to reduce segregation by field of study,” Sanchez reported.

Reynold Verret, Xavier’s president and a biochemist by training, told the Hechinger Report that  the school’s emphasis on mentorship, especially in STEM, plays on human nature: “We respond to mentors, we respect mentors, and we work hard for them.”

As of early December 2022, no major US newspaper appears to have covered the findings of “From Exclusion to Opportunity,” the Georgetown report on field of study segregation in US colleges and universities. News coverage of this topic has been limited to education-focused outlets, such as Inside Higher Ed, Higher Ed Dive, and Olivia Sanchez’s article for the Hechinger Report.

Source: Olivia Sanchez, “Segregation by College Major Can Lead to Future Job Segregation,” The Hechinger Report, September 30, 2022.

Student Researchers: Joseph Komperda, Jessica Tango, Justin Tralongo, Samuel Winalski (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)