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Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality

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Lauren Scranton

on 10 January 2014

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Transcript of Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality

College Experiences
and
Class Trajectories
are products of the
fit
between the resources associated with the student's class plus their orientations (class reproduction/ class mobility) and the pathways (party, mobility or professional) provided by universities attempting to solve organizational problems while balancing the collective class projects of multiple constituencies striving for their own interests.

Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality
Summary
In "Paying for the Party," Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton bring us to the campus of “MU,” a flagship Midwestern public research university, where they follow a group of women from freshman year through post-graduation.

The authors examine MU as an organization, and their study offers insight into the ways in which [social] class interests are built into the architecture of the university, and why schools serve some students better than others.

The authors map out three different educational pathways available to MU students.
Main Talking Points of the Book
Why do some students fare better than others at college?
What is the role of the public research university?
What place do public research universities hold in the ecology of American higher education?

The Study
5 year ethnographic and interview study of a cohort of women (53 women in total) who lived on the same residence hall floor on MU's campus during the 2004-2005 academic year
90% of the 53 women participated in at least one interview, and only 2 women opted not to participate in follow-up interviews.
All women are included in the ethnographic analyses, and 47 are at the center of the pathway analyses
Research team lived on the same floor during the first year, interacting with the students as if they were students themselves (e.g., getting ready for parties, watching television, etc.)
Data set consists of 202 interviews conducted over 5 years and over 2,000 pages of field notes
What is a "pathway"?
"When the university structures the interests of a constituency into its organizational edifice, we say that it has created a "pathway."

Pathways are simultaneously social and academic, and coordinate all aspects of the university experience;
"just as roads are built for types of vehicles, pathways are built for types of students."


Three pathways:
Party
(provisioned to support the affluent and socially oriented),
Mobility
(designed for the pragmatic and vocationally oriented), and
Professional
(fits ambitious students from privileged families)

University
Party Pathway
The most well-resourced and seductive route to college completion is a “party pathway” anchored in the Greek system and facilitated by the administration. This pathway exerts influence over the academic and social experiences of all students, and
while it benefits the affluent and well-connected
, Armstrong and Hamilton
make clear how it seriously disadvantages the majority
.
Mobility Pathway
The mobility pathway, which provides vocational training, was the main pathway through which many of those less-privileged students sought access to the middle class. It was built primarily around majors that don't require family intervention for success.

It was so poorly supported by the university that those women who transferred
to less-prestigious regional campuses
ended up with better long-term prospects
in the labor market than similar women who did not transfer.
Professional Pathway
At the heart of the professional pathway is competition; this pathway facilitates the conversion of class advantage into academic merit.

The professional pathway, which moved academic achievers into professional jobs,
required early and active intervention by involved, educated parents - benefiting the affluent students
and often putting it out of reach of less-affluent women.
Bottom Line
The directions that the women at MU took were not determined by who they were or what they wanted at the start of college, but were instead
a result of their interaction with the organizational features of MU.

Why is this important to you?
Example:
Example:
Example:
Testing Relationships between Key Determinants
Individual:
Individual orientations towards college & class backgrounds


Organizational:
Organizational imperatives that determine college pathways


Class Projections:
Aggregate of individual, class-based orientation and agendas
Greek Life
"Easy" Majors
Sorting into Residential Communities
Moving Test Dates to Accommodate Rush Events & Parties

Findings

Majority students risked downward mobility
1 student achieved upward mobility while staying at MU
Majority students transferred out to four-year colleges where they met with greater success
Achievers:
7 women from privileged backgrounds + highly involved parents graduated with high-quality credentials.
Under-achievers:
8 women who did not have such relationships exited at risk of downward mobility or with mobility projects at risk.
Full transcript