Laura Hamilton is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Broadly, her interests include higher education, organizations, social class, gender, intersectionality, family, and mixed research methods. Hamilton earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from Indiana University in 2003 and 2010, respectively, and her B.A. in sociology from DePauw University in 2001. She is co-founder of the DataHub and the Higher Education Race & the Economy (HERE) Lab with colleague Charlie Eaton.
Hamilton's first book, equally-authored with Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality uses an ethnographic and longitudinal case study of a moderately selective public university to gain insight into why so many students leave college with so little to show for it, and for whom this is most likely to be the case. This book was awarded the 2015 American Sociological Association (ASA) Distinguished Book Award, the Sociology of Education Section Pierre Bourdieu Book Award, and numerous other regional and sectional awards.
Hamilton’s second, solo-authored, book, Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College and Beyond, vividly captures the parenting approaches of the mothers and fathers of women featured in Paying for the Party as their daughters move through college and into the workforce. Hamilton finds that successfully navigating a large public university without involved parents is near impossible. Unfortunately, very few parents can play this role. Parenting to a Degree offers an incisive look into a new—and profoundly problematic—relationship between universities and parents. The book was awarded the 2018 Sociology of Education Section Pierre Bourdieu Book Award.
Hamilton's third book, equally-authored with Kelly Nielsen Broke: The Racial Consequences of Underfunding Public Universities tells an organizational story about two “new universities” with high research ambitions serving low-income students of color in California. The term “broke” has a triple meaning. We refer to the “broken” postsecondary system that segregates students by both race and social class, the extent to which new universities—far more than predominately white research institutions—are fiscally “broke” in a country that has defunded public higher education, and the promise of new universities to “break” the mold for a research university by challenging status hierarchies based on student background. BROKE has been awarded the 2022 Sociology of Education Section Pierre Bourdieu Book Award, the 2022 Organizations, Occupations, and Work Max Weber Award for Distinguished Scholarship Honorable Mention, and is a finalist for the 2021 Society for the Study of Social Problems C. Wright Mills Award.