In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jenny Stuber of the University of North Florida explains why students from different socioeconomic backgrounds experience college differently.
Jenny Stuber is an associate professor of sociology at the University of North Florida where her teaching and research interests include social stratification, the sociology of culture, and the sociology of education. In addition to her book, Inside the College Gates, her research has also appeared in Sociological Forum, The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, The International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education and Teaching in Higher Education.
Dr. Jenny Stuber – Socioeconomics and the College Experience
The biggest divide in higher education today is the social class divide. Whether in terms of enrolling in college, attending a selective college, or finishing their degree, students from higher income backgrounds have significantly better outcomes than those from lower-income backgrounds. My research, however, shows that even when working- and upper-middle-class students graduate from the same college or university, they often walk away with very different and very unequal college credentials.
In my book Inside the College Gates, I explore how students define and navigate the college experience. I found that students from different social class backgrounds arrive on campus with different cultural orientations to college. Students from wealthier backgrounds generally have an expansive view of college life: that it’s about academics, and social experiences, and activities like study abroad, Greek life, and clubs and organizations. Students from lower-income families, by contrast, have a more restrictive view of college life: that it’s about academics and achieving a degree, above all else.
These different cultural orientations to college result in social inequalities in that by being involved in social and extra-curricular activities, students from wealthier families end up adding to their social and cultural capital while on campus. By contrast, students from lower-income families acquire human capital by completing a degree, but are less likely to get involved in activities that add to their social or cultural capital.
My research also suggests that there are things that colleges and universities can do to help close this social class gap. Initiatives like First Year Programs and campus housing policies can have a significant impact on how students think about college and how that impacts their opportunities to acquire social and cultural capital.