College’s ‘party pathway’ maintains inequality

Seeking the “college experience,” young women in “party dorms” — especially those from working-class families — are distracted from their academic goals by social pressures, according to Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality Elizabeth-A.-Armstrong, a University of Michigan sociology professor, and Laura T. Hamilton, of the University of California at Merced, followed 53 women for five years after they first moved into a dorm at a middle-tier public university.

Even ambitious students were tempted by the “party pathway,”  which included a Greek party scene and an array of easy majors, researchers found.

. . . Taylor and Emma had strong academic records entering college and both aspired to be dentists. At the end of the study, Taylor was in dental school while Emma was working as a dental assistant—a job that does not require a college degree. Their fates diverged when Emma made it into an elite sorority and Taylor opted into a more studious sorority—a move supported by her college-savvy parents. Without highly educated parents like Taylor’s, Emma needed academic and social supports not offered at this school to succeed.

“College did not act as a pathway to upward mobility for most,” Armstrong said.

“Party schools” cater to “the social and educational needs of affluent, full-freight students,” write Hamilton and Armstrong.  For students who can’t afford five or six years to earn a soft degree — or no degree at all — the “college experience” is too costly.

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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Offered with no comment – Reynold’s Law:

    The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

  2. But Dental Assistant pays pretty well – 34,000 a year. They have work hours that fit into a child’s school schedule, and they have a pleasant, low-stress job.

    Meanwhile, dental school is expensive and requires taking on debt. Maybe the Dental assistant just realized that she wanted to have a job more suited to childrearing, or she plans to work for a few years so she can go to dental school debt free. How is this an inferior choice to spending money on grad school before you’re even sure you’ll like the career?

  3. Ruth Joy says:

    @Stacy- the very quotable Glenn Reynolds!

  4. cranberry says:

    I’ve heard rumors… You know, I believe some colleges are known as “party schools.” Imagine that! And even harder to believe, some students WANT to attend a “party school.” Imagine that! And their parents know they’re sending their children to a “party school.” And they’re not surprised, as they know their children well. Imagine that!

    Some parents send their children to college to make connections with other people. Not every student attending college is a serious student. Do we need a study for this?