Charlie Eaton

Charlie Eaton's picture
Research Interests: 
Organizations, Inequality, Economic Sociology, Political Sociology, Higher Education, Healthcare, Labor.

I am now serving as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Merced. See

In the News

My research on the financialization of higher education has recently been covered in The Washington PostTIMEForbesThe NationThe Chronicle of Higher EducationInside Higher Ed, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Jose Mercury News.

Publications and Manuscripts Under Review

Eaton, Charlie. "Agile Predators: Shareholder Value and the Transformation of U.S. For-Profit Colleges." Social Forces (Revise and Resubmit).

Eaton, Charlie, Sheish Kulkarni, Robert Birgeneau, Henry Brady, and Mike Hout. "Affording the Dream: Student Debt and State Need-Based Financial Aid at Public Universities."

Eaton, Charlie. 2017. “Still Public: State Universities and America’s New Student Debt Coalitions.” PS: Political Science and Politics. Vol. 50, No. 2: 408-412. Publishers Version.

Eaton, Charlie. 2017. “The Ivory Tower Tax Haven: State and Financialiation in the Rise of College Endowment Inequality.” Just Public Finance. The Haas Institute for Equity and Inclusion, University of California, Berkeley. Working Paper Version.

Eaton, Charlie, Jacob Habinek, Adam Goldstein, Cyrus Dioun, Robert Osley-Thomas, and Daniela García Santibáñez Godoy. 2016. “The Financialization of U.S. Higher Education." Socio-Economic Review. Vol. 14, No.3: 507-535. Publisher's version.

Eaton, Charlie and Margaret Weir. 2015. “The Power of Coalitions: Advancing the Public in California’s Public-Private Welfare State.”Politics & Society. Vol. 43, No. 1: 3-32. Publisher's version.

Eaton, Charlie, Jacob Habinek, Mukul Kumar, Alex Roehrkasse, Tamera Lee Stover, and Jeremy Thompson. 2013. “Swapping Our Future: How Students and Taxpayers Are Funding Risky UC Borrowing and Wall Street Profits." Berkeley Journal of Sociology. No. 57: 177-199. All versions available here.

Research Interests

I am interested in how power and inequality are shaped by organizations and ideologies, in politics, in policy, and in the economy. My work to date has explored these relationships in the domains of U.S. healthcare and higher education.

I treat organizations as fundamental social units that can provide collective identities and shared understandings for how to distribute resources and confer status. I employ this approach in my dissertation, Financialization and the New Organizational Inequality in U.S. Higher Education, which I recently completed under the supervision of Margaret Weir (co-chair), Neil Fligstein (co-chair), Marion Fourcade, and Henry Brady (Public Policy).

The role of finance in higher education has undeniably changed since the close of the 20th century. We can see this transformation in surging university endowments, increased institutional borrowing by colleges, rising Wall Street investment in for-profit colleges, and ballooning student loan balances. These seismic shifts reflect the growing power and wealth of financial investors and managers in the overall U.S. economy. They also accord with the spread of financial ideologies which posit that maximizing returns for investors should guide the allocation of resources in far flung domains, including corporations, governments, and households. Economic sociologists refer to these transformations broadly as “financialization.” With three empirical papers, my dissertation shows how financialization in the case of higher education has contributed to rising organizational inequalities in U.S. undergraduate education since the 1990s::

  • “The Financialization of U.S. Higher Education,” published in Socio-Economic Review (Eaton et. al, 2016)This paper introduces new measures and data to contrast increasing financial returns for wealthy endowments and for-profit college investors with growing costs debt for students, state schools, and most private colleges.
  • “Agile Predators: Shareholder Value and the Transformation of U.S. For-Profit Colleges.” This paper uses the same unique data set to understand the spread of shareholder value ideology in the for-profit college sector. This ideology led to a new industrial-scale business model in the 1990s, which loads students up with debt and yields unusually low graduation rates.
  • “The Ivory Tower Tax Haven.” This paper taps endowment and spending data for 800 schools since 1976 to show how repurposed tax exemptions supported the exponential endowment growth behind rising resource disparities between wealthy private schools and the rest of U.S. higher education.

I am now expanding my dissertation into a book that will also also ask if ties between finance and universities helped to mobilize support for major changes to federal student loan policies at the beginning of the 1990s. These policy shifts transformed the U.S. Department of Education into one of the largest consumer credit lenders in the world. I am specifically researching how financial industry ties on university boards helped draw university support for key policy shifts. Congressional legislation ultimately lifted limits on both federal student loan borrowing and on subsidies for private lenders of federally guaranteed student loans. I plan to compare the early 1990s alliance between universities and finance with the post-2008 coalitions that have engineered major reductions in federal student loan burdens since the financial crisis plunged private lenders into disarray. This inquiry on the politics of student debt draws on my prior work regarding how organizations and coalitions have built power California politics (“The Power of Coalitions” with Margaret Weir for Politics & Society). Overall, these projects seek to bridge ideas from organizational sociology, the sociology of education, and the sociology of the welfare state.

As a Postdoctoral Scholar, I am engaged in two major ongoing collaborations regarding organizations and inequality in U.S. higher education. First, my Postdoc is supervised by Mitchell Stevens. Together we are using a regional perspective to study the emergence a new market for lifelong learning and credential programs for those seeking skilled jobs in the Bay Area tech sector. Our research asks how improved data infrastructure and transparency might improve learning opportunities and job pathways to tech, especially for communities of color and low-income communities.

Second, I am working with Robert Birgeneau, Henry Brady, and Mike Hout to investigate how bachelor degree education for low income students in the U.S. crucially depends on public research universities (“Worlds Apart”) and state need-based aid programs such as CalGrants (“Securing the Dream”). Supported by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, we are also building a new open-source, peer-reviewed repository of statistical software code for higher education researchers. The repository will curate code that links, processes, or analyzes the highly disjointed data sets on U.S. colleges’ organizational characteristics and students.


I am passionate about teaching and mentoring as practices that are central to improving sociological knowledge and efforts for social justice. My teaching interests include sociological theory, organizational sociology, economic sociology, political sociology, inequality and stratification, social policy, sociology of education, quantitative methods, and comparative historical methods.

For my teaching success, I was selected to design and teach a senior capstone seminar entitled "Inequality & Social Policy in the New Era of Finance" in the fall of 2016. More details along with the full syllabus and course materials are available here. I have also taught applied research seminars for undergraduates assisting with my own research. And I have led discussion sections for the course "Economy & Society." Finally, I led an intensive "Stata Fundamentals" course at UC Berkeley's D-Lab for students wishing to use statistical software for social research. My materials for "Stata Fundamentals" are available here

Media Contributions and Issue Briefings

Eaton, Charlie. “Invited Testimony on Financial and California Resident Enrollment Trends at the University of California.” California State Assembly Education Budget Subcommittee 2, Sacramento, CA, April 21, 2015.

Brady, Henry E., Charlie Eaton, and Jon Stiles. “Expenditure and Funding Changes at Research Universities: 1987-2012.” The Lincoln Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, October 27, 2014.

Eaton, Charlie and Margaret Weir. “How Powerful Consumer Advocates Help Obamacare Succeed in California.” Scholars Strategy Network Basic Facts, January 2014.

Mullen, Briana, and Charlie Eaton. 2013. “UC Should Freeze Hidden Fees as Well as Tuition.” San Jose Mercury News, November 23, A12.

Eaton, Charlie. “Napolitano Needs to Make Equal Access a Priority at UC Schools.” Sacramento Bee, November 7 2013, 13 A.

Charlie Eaton and Jacob Habinek. “Why America's Public Universities - Not Just Their Students - Have a Debt Problem.” Scholars Strategy Network Key Findings, August 2013.

Charlie Eaton. "Napolitano’s test - UC’s shaky finances." San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 2013: A14.

Talks Online

Eaton, Charlie and Margaret Weir. “Panel on the Affordable Care Act and California.” The Scholars Strategy Network (SSN) and The Labor Center of the University of California, Berkeley, March 14, 2014. (Introduction by Margaret Weir at 40 minutes and 45 seconds.  Remarks by Charlie Eaton at 43 minutes and 29 seconds.)

PhD Date:: 
August, 2016
Dissertation Title: 
“Financialization and the New Organizational Inequality in U.S. Higher Education”
Dissertation Committee: 
Margaret Weir (Co-Chair), Neil Fligstein (Co-Chair), Marion Fourcade, and Henry Brady (Public Policy and Political Science)