Stratification and Prestige Hierarchies in Graduate and Professional Education*


  • *

    This paper is part of a larger study (Lang, 1983). I would like to thank Alexander W. Astin, Sylvia Wanner Lang, Seymour Martin Lipset, Robert M. O'Brien, and Jean Stockard for comments and helpful suggestions. The research facilities and setting at the Center for Studies in Higher Education (U. C. Berkeley) have also contributed to my on-going work. I am particularly indebted to Martin Trow andJanet Ruyle for their encouragement and insight. The data utilized in this article were made available by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Science Research, Ann Arbor, Michigan and were originally collected by Martin Trow et al. for the Carnegie Commission National Survey of Higher Education: Graduate Study, 1969. The views and interpretations are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the original collectors or organizations listed above.


Earlier research indicates that the “academic hierarchy” encourages and reflects both meritocratic standards and long-standing status distinctions. Using a nationwide survey of graduate and professional students, this study considers the relative and independent influence of students' social class, sex, race, undergraduate achievement, and rank of undergraduate institution attended on rank of graduate or professional school they attend. Students in the total group, universities and colleges, as well as public and private institutions are examined. Analysis of covariance results suggest that undergraduate rank is the strongest predictor of rank of institution attended. Attendance at highly ranked undergraduate institutions predicts appropriate location at prestigious graduate and professional schools. Level of undergraduate achievement also has independent effects. Higher achievement predicts attendance at both highly ranked and slightly lower ranked institutions. Social class influences location in the academic hierarchy, but in an unexpected direction. Working class students often attend higher ranked schools than their upper middle and middle class counterparts. Findings show that men and women attend similarly ranked institutions, and female students attend higher ranked schools than males. The independent effects of race also indicate that racial groups attend different as well as similarly ranked institutions. Finally, limited interactions of three independent variables show that expected merit, social class, and sex advantages do not persist for all students.