James Rosenbaum

Professor of Education and Social Policy, and of Sociology | Chair of IPR’s Program on Poverty, Race, and Inequality


Education researcher James Rosenbaum's current major area of research concerns the college-for-all movement, college attendance and coaches, high-school-to-work transitions, and linkages among students, schools, and employers.

For two decades, he conducted an extensive research project on the effects of relocating poor inner-city black families in public housing to subsidized housing in the white middle-class suburbs of Chicago. This quasi-natural experiment, known as the Gautreaux Program, has enabled him to study the effects of these moves on children's educational outcomes and job opportunities, as well as the social and economic effects on the mothers. These studies encouraged the federal government to create its Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program, implemented by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A specialist in research on work, education, and housing opportunities, Rosenbaum has published six books and numerous articles on these subjects.

Rosenbaum has testified before Congressional committees on several occasions. He is a member of the Technical Review Panel for the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) in the U.S. Department of Education. Rosenbaum's research has contributed to the design of award-winning community college reforms, federal and state policies, and programs to improve college access for low-income students.

Current Projects

Should College Be for All? While the nation’s high schools have embraced the idea of trying to get all high school seniors into college, little attention has been paid to the processes that increase the number of students who actually go and complete their degree. Rosenbaum’s research team is conducting a longitudinal study of all seniors at 82 public high schools in Chicago, seeking to extend understanding of the varied institutional procedures that shape the high-school-to-college transition process for students. Using data generated by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, it is possible to model trajectories from sixth grade through the year following high school, using postsecondary enrollment information from the National Student Clearinghouse. Results will be used to determine the effectiveness of guidance programs and provide school administrators and guidance counselors with highly relevant information about how to help their students make the transition to college.

College Attendance and "Coaches." Since 2005, Rosenbaum has been gathering ethnographic and administrative data from a new college counseling program in Chicago public schools that targets disadvantaged students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Beyond cost and academic achievement, previous research finds that these students have a lack of college-related social capital. The program helps students overcome these cultural barriers by pairing them with “college coaches,” who advise them on their options for college, demonstrate how to work with admissions counselors, and assist with scholarship applications. Following nearly all Chicago public school seniors through the fall after high school, Rosenbaum and Jennifer Stephan of the American Institutes for Research find that coaches improve the types of colleges students attend by getting students to complete key actions, with the most disadvantaged students benefiting the most, suggesting that targeting social capital might improve the high-school-to-college transition for these students. This idea is being implemented in other school systems across the country

Employers and Community Colleges. This project looks at the hiring process from the vantage points of both employers and educators. Rosenbaum focuses on two questions: How do employers view community colleges? Which programs help students complete their degrees and get earnings benefits when they graduate? The researchers are interviewing administrators and staff at 12 urban and suburban schools to determine how the schools prepare students for various occupations and how they learn about employers’ needs, disseminate information to firms, and help their graduates get jobs. Data from 1,200 students will shed light on their education and work training, and their career expectations. Local employers will be asked how they get information about school programs, how they decide whether these programs meet their needs, and whether they influence curricula. Employers’ views of programs including distance-education and use of the Internet also will be sought.

The High-School-to-Work Transition. From a sample of 500 U.S. high schools, Rosenbaum is pinpointing various links between school and work and their impact on employers, teachers, and students, especially low-income and minority youth. His research team is also interviewing school personnel and students in 12 high schools with different types of linkages to employers. They are analyzing reform experiments that use these arrangements to improve the motivation of work-bound students.

Selected Publications


After Admission: From College Access to College Success with Regina Deil-Amen. New York: Russell Sage Foundation (2006).

Beyond College for All: Career Paths for the Forgotten Half. New York: Russell Sage Foundation (2001).

Crossing the Class and Color Lines: From Public Housing to White Suburbia (pdf) with Leonard Rubinowitz. University of Chicago Press (2000).

Published Articles

Rosenbaum, J., C. Ahearn, and J. Lansing. Forthcoming. Educational and labor market success: Complicating the status attainment model. In Handbook of Sociology of Education, ed. B. Schneider.

Rosenbaum, J[James], C. Ahearn, J. Rosenbaum [Janet], and K. Becker. 2016. Beyond earnings and social reproduction: Can college lead to good jobs without reproducing social inequalities? The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 2(1): 90–110.

Rosenbaum, J. [James], C. Ahearn, and J. Rosenbaum [Janet]. 2016. The community college optionEducation Leadership 73(6): 48–53.

Ahearn, C. J. Rosenbaum [James], and J. Rosenbaum [Janet]. 2016. The new college-for-all policy: What educators need to know about community college credentialsPhiDelta Kappan 97(5): 49–53.

Rosenbaum, J., K. Becker, K. Cepa, and C. Zapata-Gietl. 2015. Turning the question around: Do colleges fail to meet students' expectations? Research in Higher Education 57: 519–43.

Zapata, C.,  J. Rosenbaum, C. Ahearn, and K. Becker. 2015. Connections between educational systems and labor markets. In Handbook of the Life Course, ed. M. Shanahan, J. Mortimer, and M. Johnson. Springer. 

Rosenbaum. J. [James], J. Rosenbaum [Janet], J. Stephan, A. Foran, and P. Schuetz. 2015. Beyond BA blinders: Cultural impediments to college success. My 4-year degree was the longest 8 years of my life. In The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, ed. O. Patterson. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press.

Rosenbaum. J., C. Ahearn, C. Ng, and K. Becker. 2015. Convergences between high school and college in preparing youth for employment. In Convergence: U.S. Education Policy Fifty Years After the ESEA and HEA of 1965, eds. C. Loss and P. McGuinn. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard Education Press.

Rosenbaum, J. [James], C. Ahearn, K. Becker, and J. Rosenbaum [Janet]. 2014. The new Forgotten Half and research directions to support them. Research Report, Program on Inequality. W.T. Grant Foundation: New York City.

Rosenbaum, J., C. Ahearn, and K. Becker. 2014. Using structure to boost college completion. In The Four-Year Myth, 20–21. Washington, D.C.: Complete College America.

Stephan, J., and J. Rosenbaum. 2013. Can high schools reduce college enrollment gaps with a new counseling model? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 35(2): 200–19.

Rosenbaum, J. [James], K. Cepa, and J. Rosenbaum [Janet]. 2013. Beyond the one-size-fits-all college degreeContexts 12(1): 49–52.

Rosenbaum, J. [James], and J. Rosenbaum [Janet]. 2013. Beyond BA blinders: Lessons from occupational colleges and certificate programs for non-traditional studentsJournal of Economic Perspectives 27(2): 153–72.

Rosenbaum, J. [James], and J. Rosenbaum [Janet]. 2012. Sociologically smart college procedures to improve student successASA Footnotes 40(8): 1–4.

Rosenbaum, J. 2011. The complexities of college-for-all: Beyond fairy-tale dreams. Sociology of Education 84(2): 113–17.

Rosenbaum, J. [James], J. Rosenbaum [Janet], and J. Stephan 2011. Perfectionist dreams and hidden stratification: Is perfection the enemy of the good? In Frontiers in Sociology of Education, ed. M. Hallinan, 181–203. London: Springer.

Stephan, J., and J. Rosenbaum. 2009. Permeability and transparency in the high school-college transition. In AERA Handbook on Education Policy Research, ed. D. Plank, G. Sykes, and B. Schneider. Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association.

DeLuca, S., and J. Rosenbaum. 2009. Residential mobility, neighborhoods, and poverty: Results from the Chicago Gautreaux program and the Moving To Opportunity experiment. In The Integration Debate: Competing Futures for American Cities, ed. C. Hartman and G. Squires, 185–98. New York: Routledge.

Rosenbaum, J., S. DeLuca, and A. Zuberi. 2009. When does residential mobility benefit low-income families? Evidence from recent housing voucher programmes. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice 17(2): 113–24.

Stephan, J., J. Rosenbaum, and A. Person. 2009. Stratification in college entry and completion. Social Science Research 38(3): 572–93.

Rosenbaum, J., and L. Goble. 2008. Questioning our assumptions about college requirements. In College Success: What it Means and How to Make it Happen, ed. M. McPherson and M. Schapiro, 107–18. New York: Macmillan.