John D. Skrentny

Professor of Sociology, University of California-San Diego

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About John

Skrentny's research focuses on work, education, and policy. Overarching themes in Skrentny's writings include how higher education and employment can be better organized and regulated to provide equal opportunities for students and workers and help them to achieve their own and society's goals. Skrentny is a former leader of the SSN San Diego Chapter, and a former director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research. Skrentny has served in an advisory capacity with several organizations in Southern California, mostly focused on inclusiveness and economic development.

In the News

"Why Pushing STEM Majors Is Turning Out to Be a Terrible Investment," John D. Skrentny, The Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2024.
Guest to discuss his new book on WGN News, John D. Skrentny, November 20, 2023.
"We Must Retain Foreign Ph.D.S to Keep America’s Innovation Advantage," John D. Skrentny (with Michael Roach), Opinion, The Hill, August 19, 2020.
"Big Tech’s Unfair Immigration Advantage," John D. Skrentny (with Michael Roach), Opinion, WSJ, December 10, 2019.
John D. Skrentny quoted by Edwin Meese III and Mike Gonzalez, "Trump Can Help Overcome Identity Politics" The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2018.
John D. Skrentny quoted by Sandip Roy, "Another Brick in Donald Trump’s Wall" The Economic Times, February 8, 2018.
John D. Skrentny quoted by Mike Gonzalez, "Trump Administration Strikes a Blow against Identity Politics" The Daily Signal, January 28, 2018.
"Trump Will Lose America Like Pete Wilson Lost California," John D. Skrentny, The Hill, February 6, 2017.
John D. Skrentny quoted on STEM salaries by Tatiana Sanchez, "More Immigrants Pursuing STEM Careers, Report Says" San Diego Union-Tribune, November 9, 2015.
John D. Skrentny quoted on the origins of birthright citizenship by Will Cabaniss, "S.E. Cupp: Only about 30 Other Countries Offer Birthright Citizenship, Making U.S. 'Anomaly'" PolitiFact, August 23, 2015.
John D. Skrentny quoted on understanding the impact of immigration on California, "UC San Diego to Lead Major Project on Immigration" Imperial Valley News, March 15, 2015.
"Equal Opportunity is Over. It’s Time for ‘Racial Realism’," John D. Skrentny, Time Magazine, August 29, 2014.
"Only Minorities Need Apply," John D. Skrentny, New York Times, May 6, 2014.
"Making San Diego an International Hub," John D. Skrentny (with David Scott FitzGerald), U-T San Diego, July 3, 2013.
"Immigration Reform: From Distrust to Direction," John D. Skrentny, Congress Blog, The Hill, May 16, 2011.
"Few Nations Give Guarantees like 14th Amendment," John D. Skrentny, Interview with Guy Raz, NPR's All Things Considered, August 14, 2010.
"Immigration Reform: Start with Small Steps," John D. Skrentny,, July 15, 2010.


"Wasted Education: How We Fail Our Graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math" (University of Chicago Press, 2023).

Investigates the reasons why STEM graduates are opting out of STEM work, and argues that the problem is not education, but STEM work culture. Highlights aspects of STEM work culture that are to blame, ranging from “burn and churn” management practices, lack of job security, constant training for a never-ending stream of new—and often socially harmful—technologies, and the exclusion of women, people of color, and older workers.

"Why Foreign STEM PhDs Are Unlikely to Work for US Technology Startups " (with Michael Roach). PNAS (2018).

Shows that foreign PhDs apply to and receive job offers from technology startups at the same rate as US PhDs, but are less than half as likely to work in a startup.  Presents evidence that this discrepancy is not explained by foreign PhDs’ preferences for established firm jobs, risk tolerance, or preference for higher pay, suggesting that visa policies may deter foreign PhDs from working in startups.

"Obama’s Immigration Reform: The Triumph of Executive Action" (with Jane Lilly Lopez). Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality 2, no. 1 (2013): 62-79.

Examines how President Obama used executive action to secure support from Latino voters despite his inability to deliver comprehensive immigration reform.

"Senate and House Immigration Reform Efforts in the 113th Congress: An Overview," (with Angela S. Garcia, Linda Naval, and Tom K. Wong), Scholars Strategy Network, July 2013.
Offers a side-by-side comparison of Senate and House immigration reform efforts in the 113th Congress.
"Japan, the United States, and the Philosophical Bases of Immigration Policy" (with Micah Gell-Redman and Jack Jin Gary Lee). American Behavioral Scientist 56, no. 8 (2012): 995-1007.
Shows how immigration policies are shaped in varying ways by different values and goals, including economic growth, rights protection, and community and cultural preservation.
"Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the Dynamics of Statutory Entrenchment" (with Micah Gell-Redman). The Yale Law Journal Online 120 (2011): 325-346.

Analyzes the different components of comprehensive immigration reform and shows their varying basis in constitutional and statutory law, highlighting that the repeated failure of border enforcement has not been an impediment to its entrenchment as a strategy for congressional lawmaking.

"Obama’s Immigration Reform: A Tough Sell for a Grand Bargain" in Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama’s First Two Years, edited by Theda Skocpol and Larry Jacobs (Russell Sage Foundation , 2011), 273-320.
Explains the inability of President Obama to pass comprehensive immigration reform, emphasizing the negative cultural baggage of the policy, as well as American institutions and Republican opposition, and suggests possible ways that the “grand bargain” can move forward.
"Are America’s Civil Rights Laws Still Relevant?" Du Bois Review 4, no. 1 (2007): 1-22.
Shows how, in an increasingly diverse America that values racial diversity in a wide range of jobs, but also exploits immigrants in at the bottom of the labor market, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – almost a half-century old – is increasingly distant from workplace practices.
"Passing Strict Scrutiny: Using Social Science to Design Affirmative Action Programs" (with Clark Cunningham and Glenn Loury). Georgetown Law Journal 90, no. 4 (2002): 835-882.
Analyzes the constitutional law of affirmative action from a comparative perspective, highlighting challenges in designating beneficiaries and showing how other countries have created explicit procedures for determining whom shall be included, while the U.S. has not.
"The Minority Rights Revolution" (Harvard University Press, 2002).
Presents a comprehensive study of America policy development within a global context. Emphasizes the key role of international politics and the black civil rights movement in the development of the Immigration Act of 1965; the expansion of affirmative action to include women as well as Latinos, Asian Americans and American Indians; bilingual education; Title IX for women’s equality in education; rights for the disabled; and the failure of gays/lesbians and white ethnics to win new rights.