Jane Furey Named a 2023 NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellow

May 24, 2023

The National Academy of Education (NAEd) has named Jane Furey, a joint PhD student in Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan and a graduate trainee of the Population Studies Center at the Institute for Social Research, a recipient of the 2023 NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship.

She is one of 35 dissertation fellows selected from a pool of 355 applicants to receive $27,500 for a period of up to two years to complete their dissertations and also attend professional development retreats. The program supports researchers whose projects address critical issues in the history, theory, or practice of formal or informal education, at the national and international levels.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this year’s cohort of dissertation fellows,” Furey said.

Furey’s research is broadly focused on the relationship between education and socioeconomic inequality, and how variation in access to and returns to education is associated with socioeconomic inequality. Her dissertation explores educational attainment over the life course and investigates the extent to which education attained later in adulthood benefits individuals and reduces inequality. She aims to produce research that contributes to our understanding of heterogeneity in educational experiences and outcomes among adults.

Furey’s work has been published in the American Sociological Review, Research on Social Stratification and Mobility, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and the Journal for Research on Educational Effectiveness. She is a student fellow at the Stone Center for Inequality Dynamics and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Brown University and previously worked as an education policy evaluator.

Second Chances or Growing Gaps? Education in Adulthood and Inequality over the Life Course

Higher levels of education are positively associated with many social and economic benefits. But what happens when education is completed at older ages? Although individuals aged 25 and older make up a large share of postsecondary students and policies that support adults’ education are expanding, the extent to which adults benefit from additional education is unclear.

Furey’s dissertation adopts a life course perspective to emphasize that education earned at different life stages has different returns and consequences. She uses several longitudinal datasets and quantitative methods to examine the economic (dis)advantages of different education pathways. In one paper, she investigates how adults’ education pathways have changed across multiple cohorts. In a second paper, she shows how education trajectories shape earnings inequality in early adulthood. In a third paper, she uses decomposition techniques to examine how racial inequality in education over the life course contributes to Black-White earnings inequality in mid-life.

The dissertation contributes to education research in three ways. First, the findings will improve our understanding of patterns of adults’ education pathways. Second, the work contributes to a growing body of research on heterogeneity in returns to education. Third, the research highlights how adults’ education relates to inequality and stratification. Adults’ education may provide second chances, or cement inequalities established at younger ages. Taken together, Furey’s dissertation enhances our understanding of how adults’ education shapes inequality over the life course.

According to NAEd President Dr. Carol Lee, “The NAEd/Spencer Fellowships represent an important investment in the future leaders in education research. In these times of uncertainty, the continued support of future leaders in education research is of paramount importance, and our fellows will play an important role in shaping that future. We face challenging questions around how research can inform new understandings of learning and development and the systems that support them.  I look forward to working with and supporting our fellows and awardees in the coming year.”