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ERIC Number: ED534044
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 276
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1249-2017-7
How Is Postsecondary Education Associated with Membership in the American Corporate Elite?
Ott, Molly C.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan
This study contributes to the discussion around the value of a college degree and associated career advantages by considering how postsecondary education contributes to the attainment of the most powerful and prestigious positions in the American corporate world. Guided by a conceptual framework informed by status attainment, power elite, and upper echelon theories, I examined the backgrounds of almost 4,000 top-level Fortune 500 business executives in 2010. The data, including socio-demographics, postsecondary degrees, various undergraduate accomplishments, and company characteristics, were collected from a variety of secondary sources. A series of analyses, inspired by the work of Useem and Karabel (1986), compared executives who were senior managers or outside directors of one company to even more powerful executives. This latter group, referred to as the "corporate elite," were operationalized as CEOs, outside directors of multiple companies, or leaders in major business associations. I found a bachelor's degree to be almost universally held and few significant differences emerged distinguishing the most powerful executives from others in terms of their bachelor's degree source. Focusing more closely on undergraduate academic and extracurricular accomplishments, however, indicated that the corporate elite were more likely to be involved in certain activities. Also, I observed differences in the levels of graduate degree attainment and graduate degree sources. Possessing an MBA degree from a top business school or, to a lesser extent from a lower ranked business school, were each positively associated with membership in the business elite. For law school graduates, the likelihood of holding a top position of corporate power was less consistent than that of MBAs. Ultimately, this paper adds to our understanding of how postsecondary education might shape a small and understudied population that is a high status occupational class, the top management team responsible for major corporate decisions, and a powerful inner circle positioned to define national business interests and influence policy. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway, P.O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Tel: 800-521-0600; Web site:
Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: United States