Christina Ciocca Eller

Institution: Columbia University

Christina Ciocca Eller draws on quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze the role of higher education organizations in shaping the opportunities and outcomes available to students. Her dissertation, “Organizational Effects on Bachelor’s Degree Completion for the New Majority,” brings together key ideas from stratification, organizations, and cultural sociology to study the interactions between students and colleges. Specifically, she uses longitudinal data from both administrative records and a yearlong interview study of a large, urban, public university system in the U.S. to quantify "college effects," or the independent impact of colleges on student outcomes, as well as the individual and organizational forces that explain those effects. Outside of her dissertation, she has published work on the black/white gap in BA completion in the American Sociological Review and the relationship between course-taking and labor market outcomes in working papers.  She additionally has studied school-to-work transitions in comparative international contexts, including collaborative work published in the American Journal of Sociology. She was named an NAEd/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Christina received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, where she was valedictorian of the College class, and subsequently received graduate degrees in Women’s Studies and Management Research from the University of Oxford through the Timothy S. Healy Scholarship. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, she served as Chief Speechwriter and Communications Director for the president of Georgetown University.

She will take up an appointment as an assistant professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University in July 2019.


Christina Ciocca Eller.

The rise of accountability standards has pressed higher education organizations to oversee the production and publication of data on student outcomes more closely than in the past. However, the most common measure of student outcomes, average bachelor's degree completion rates, potentially provides little information about the direct impacts of colleges and universities on student success. Extending scholarship in the new institutionalist tradition, I hypothesize that higher education organizations today exist as, “superficially coupled systems,” where colleges closely oversee their technical outputs but where those technical outputs provide limited insight into the direct role of colleges and universities in producing them. I test this hypothesis using administrative data from the largest, public, urban university system in the United States together with fixed effects regression and entropy balancing techniques, allowing me to isolate organizational effects. My results provide evidence for superficial coupling, suggesting that inequality in college effectiveness exists both between colleges and within colleges, given students' racial background and family income. They also indicate that institutionalized norms surrounding accountability have backfired, enabling higher education organizations, and other bureaucratic organizations like them, to maintain legitimacy without identifying and addressing inequality.

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