Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Sociology (Applied), PhD

Committee Chair

Brooms, Derrick

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Negrey, Cynthia

Committee Member

Heberle, Lauren

Committee Member

Gross, Jacob

Committee Member

Rollins, Aaron

Author's Keywords

human capital; policy; urban; knowledge; cities; workforce


In economics, the term growth often refers to the increase in economic activity between two points in time. Within the context of the United States of America, the language of growth has permeated beyond just economics and into other societal institutions due to spillover. As a result, growth is not just an economic term but rather a part of the culture of capitalism which impacts every area of society. The dissertation using growth machine theory and the global cities literature examines how in the knowledge economy, cities play a growing role in mediating the supply and demand for post-secondary attainment. The research recognizes that as the knowledge economy expands, cities, states, and nation states will look for new channels of meeting a precondition for growth: human capital. The study examines 58 cities and finds a great divergence taking place between high and low attainment cities in the United States. Additionally, the dissertation examines three case study cities on the U.S. I-65 interstate corridor: Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville. The case studies examine how and why cities are working to raise the percentage of their populations with a college degree. Findings show that cities are working to raiseattainment for the purposes of: economic development, economic competitiveness, and individual empowerment. To meet attainment goals each city’s human capital system works to develop, retain, and attract individuals with at least a post-secondary degree. Additionally, the research discusses the long-term implications of using growth and competition as a rationale for increased higher educational attainment. In conclusion, the study questions and recommends future research on the changing purpose of higher education in the United States.