Goldrick-Rab grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D. C. She describes herself as an "East Coast Jewish woman" who was "taught to be outspoken and forthright. " Goldrick-Rab graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Ph. D. in sociology in 2004. She intended to pursue a career in applied research until she was encouraged to apply for a position in higher education policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Goldrick-Rab accepted the position in 2004 with the intent to make Wisconsin colleges more accessible. In 2016, Goldrick-Rab left the University of Wisconsin-Madison to accept a position in higher education policy and sociology at Temple University. She married Liam Goldrick, who also works in education policy, in 2005, although the couple has since divorced. They have two children, a son and a daughter. In 2017, Goldrick-Rab and Howard Strug became engaged, and the couple married later that year.
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