Background/Context: When inequality of opportunity is discussed in higher education, it typically pertains to access to college. Ample research has examined sociodemographic inequalities in transition to higher education and enrollment in particular types of institutions. Although providing valuable insights, social stratification research does not dedicate the same attention to studentsí experiences during college and, more specifically, to inequalities in instructional quality.
Research Questions: Conceptualizing opportunity in terms of instructional quality, I address two specific questions: First, do students from all sociodemographic groups report similar levels of instructional quality? And second, do students report changes in instructional quality during their time in college?
Research Design: This study relies on data from three cohorts of students who entered college in the fall of 2006, 2007, and 2008 and were followed through the end of their senior year in the Wabash National Study (WNS) of Liberal Arts Education. In addition to studentsí background characteristics, WNS includes detailed information regarding studentsí college experiences, including instruction.
Results: The results reveal a substantial amount of variability in studentsí reports of instructional quality. Notably, this variation is not systematically related to studentsí sociodemographic characteristics, net of controls. However, the results also reveal a considerable amount of path dependency, with approximately half of the students reporting the same level of instructional quality at the beginning and end of college. Academic achievement is related to studentsí reports of instructional quality in the first year, after which academic inertia carries students toward the end. Academic motivation, on the other hand, facilitates mobility to higher levels of instructional quality over time and is particularly beneficial for students who begin college reporting a low level of instructional quality.
Conclusion: Reported patterns offer insights into social stratification and path dependence of studentsí experiences during college. Moreover, patterns of stability and change in studentsí reports of instructional quality have implications for studies of college impact. The article concludes with reflections on different conceptualizations of instructional quality and recommendations for future research.