Book: Lower Classes Struggling to Keep Up in College

Inequality in colleges and universities between the haves and have-nots is starting to show. A group of female researchers in 2004 moved into a “party dorm” at a middle class, state university with a plan to study sex on campus and the culture of sexual attraction. However, before much time had passed, the lead researchers, Laura T. Hamilton and Elizabeth A. Armstrong noticed that they kept coming back to the same main issue: How students’ social status was affecting their academic and social outcomes.

Their discoveries were put into their book, “Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality.” It demonstrated that less affluent women did not do as well, and their findings question traditional assumptions about the priorities of state universities, the part parents play, and the perceived reason for college, writes Robert Douthat for The New York Times.

The researcher’s report then changed its topic and they wound up watching a group of female students for the next 5-6 years to see what part class played in the women’s outcomes.

The problem’s base is founded in state schools being built to serve the needs and wants of the affluent few. These few include out-of-state students who have to pay more in tuition and therefore contribute more to the school, says researcher and co-author Hamilton. Maria Shriver for NBC News quotes the author as saying:

“A lot of schools have had to figure out ways to bring in more tuition dollars,” says Hamilton, who indicates that declining state support for higher education is part of the problem. “Most four years schools can’t compete for the cream of the crop who are also rich, so they have to compete for a less studious component of the rich.”

This suggests students that are ready to party. Those students who are going to college only to party and socialize have had colleges designing catalogs of only “easy” degrees and majors, says Shriver. These degrees tend to demand very little of students’ intellect or time. In some situations, the offered major provides qualifications for employment that does not even require a degree .

The problem of class is demonstrated in a plethora of ways, which include a shortfall of parental guidance to students’ few social options, reports Shriver. The researchers saw first hand the want for the sorority rush which puts less affluent women in a lower place for networking and quality of life.

The partying pupils are not exactly academically motivated. In most cases, they have rich parents and clear cut career aspirations, so they do not have to be motivated to succeed. Because they do not need financial aid unlike their poorer counterparts, they are essential to their institution’s profits, writes Douthat.

This influence is most likely shattering for poorer, unpopular students. Some are taken into a social circle that underachieves their practical goals, which encourages them to change majors so as to replicate their cooler, fellow students, writes Douthat. This also pushes them into sexual situations they are unfamiliar with, making their parents “ dig deep” for “sorority fees, spring break trips and bar tabs” and forcing them to pay vast after-college debts. Some cannot keep up socially or fit in at all and end up as loners and constantly unhappy.