Between Two Fields: US Public Master’s Institutions — Striving for Prestige or Equity?

Jarrett B. Warshaw, Jon McNaughtan, Matt DeMonbrun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Conventional wisdom suggests that a field of striving compels US public master’s institutions (PMIs) to pursue prestige in the academic hierarchy. We posit that, due to their unique histories of democratizing college opportunity, PMIs face conflicting imperatives from two fields: an origin one of equity and another of striving. Our hypotheses are that the pursuit of prestige entails departing from an origin field and will widen stratification between and within institutions over time. Using longitudinal data on organizational characteristics and enrollment share of low-income students, descriptive results suggest a relatively stable position among PMIs and in serving students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Panel analyses offered here indicate that, all else equal, PMIs with higher admissions selectivity, more out-of-state students, higher institutional grant aid, stronger growth in graduate education, and more favorable state economic conditions enrolled fewer low-income students over time than did their peers. Yet marginal effects showed moderate changes rather than swings toward dramatically greater between- and within-institution stratification. We discuss implications for research on managing conflicting imperatives from multiple fields and for public policy that foregrounds and rewards equity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-369
Number of pages26
JournalHigher Education Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • college opportunity
  • inequality and stratification
  • longitudinal analysis
  • low-income students
  • neo-institutional theory
  • organizational change


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