Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Hayley M. Cleary, PhD

Second Advisor

John Accordino, PhD

Third Advisor

Christopher Herrington, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Myung Hun Jin, PhD


Associate’s degree completion has been billed as the quickest way to upskill the workforce and a ticket to the middle class (Carnevale et al., 2018; Gittell et al., 2017). Yet, over 35 million Americans have left college without a degree (Wheatle et al., 2017). Black and Hispanic students are more likely than White and Asian students to leave college before completing a degree (Shapiro et al., 2017). This study examined if economic benefits differ between those whose highest level of educational attainment is “some college, no degree (SCND)” and an associate’s degree, specifically by analyzing heterogeneity and interaction effects between race/ethnicity, sex, citizenship and nativity. Human Capital Theory (HCT) and Intersectionality framed this study. Using data from the Current Population Survey 2019 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, this study employed OLS and logistic regressions to examine heterogeneity in economic rewards. Propensity score matching was also employed to estimate causal treatment effects using observational data. On average, associate’s workers reaped more economic rewards than SCND workers. However, in almost every category, the advantage of additional training (completion of the associate’s degree) was lost when the worker held at least one socially disadvantaged identity. The economic disadvantage was multiplied for some workers who had more than one disadvantaged identity. The findings of this study support the economic value of completing an associate’s degree, and unmask the disparate outcomes in the labor market when examining economic returns for workers of diverse races/ethnicities, sexes and nationalities.


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