Social Networks Research in Higher Education

  • Susan Biancani Pedagogical school, Stanford University, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
  • Daniel McFarland Pedagogical school, Stanford University, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
Keywords: higher education, social networks, homophily, educational achieve­ments, attitudes on race


Susan Biancani - Research Fellow, School of Education, Stanford University. E-mail:

Daniel A. McFarland - Research Fellow, School of Education, Stanford University. E-mail:

Address: School of Education, Stanford University, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

This chapter describes the literature on social networks in higher education from both an analytical and empirical perspective. The literature is organized in such a way: Descriptive work, work that uses networks as a dependent variable, and work that uses networks as an independent variable. Several important questions are investigated in this literature, including students’ attitudes on race, factors influencing student achievement, and the role online social networks play in students’ lives. Homophily and propinquity play important roles in promoting ties between individuals — here, friendship ties among students. At the same time, the effects of homophily can be overcome: additional exposure to classmates from different backgrounds makes students more likely to form friendships that cross racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic boundaries. Moreover, this additional exposure also may promote more open-minded attitudes among students toward classmates of different races than their own. Interestingly, one key mechanism in overcoming the effect of homophily is propinquity: Being roommates or dorm-mates with diverse others increases the likelihood of becoming friends with them. Scholarship has also demonstrated that a strong set of connections to classmates is important for students’ success and happiness in school. While the literature on student social networks in institutions of higher education provides numerous useful insights, the field remains fragmented. In part, this is because the field lacks broad, synthetic works that integrate these multiple perspectives.


Download data is not yet available.
How to Cite
BiancaniSusan, and Daniel McFarland. 2014. “Social Networks Research in Higher Education”. Voprosy Obrazovaniya / Educational Studies Moscow, no. 4 (February), 85-126.
Theoretical and Applied Research