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

  • Jarrett B. WarshawEmail author
  • Jon McNaughtan
  • Matt DeMonbrun
Original Article

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.


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



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New York, NY, April 2018. We gratefully acknowledge the reviewers and editor of this journal for their helpful suggestions and comments, Ozan Jaquette for sharing data for this project, and Jim Hearn for informing our thinking about isomorphism and organizational fields.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Universities 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Leadership and Research MethodologyFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  2. 2.Texas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  3. 3.Southern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA

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