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.

Not everyone wants a cheap, no-frills degree

Some college students will choose a cheap, no-frills degree, but others will pay more for the “college experience,” which includes sports teams and student activities, writes a university provost.

But most students aren’t paying the full cost of their university education/socialization. Higher education is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

How many can finish bachelor’s in 3 years?

As college costs rise, many states are exploring three-year bachelor’s degrees at public universities, reports College Bound. Increasingly, students arrive with Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment credits. If they’re willing to work hard, they can save money and start earning earlier.

However, The Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree: Reform Measure or Red Herring? leans toward the herring.

Not many participate in these fast-track programs. It’s not suited for many students who work, rely on Pell Grants (which are no longer available year-round), or lack the academic preparation for college, the report suggests.

Getting a program going has costs and requires key changes in campus operations. This investment may not pay off without widespread student participation.

Then there is the concern over rushing the college experience. Some may need four years or more to really develop critical-thinking skills, become engaged in campus life, and make full meaning of their new knowledge.

Fast tracking works only for motivated, college-ready, AP-credit-bearing students who don’t want to pay ever-rising college tuition for four (or five or six) years of engagement in campus life. They could graduate, get a job and eat pizza with their work buddies. Surely there are enough students of this type to motivate colleges to design three-year degree programs.

Online ed means low-cost, high-quality college

Online technology “promises historic improvements in the quality of and access to higher education,” predict John Chubb and Terry Moe in the Wall Street Journal. Elite universities are putting classes — if not degrees — online.

One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)—as has happened in every other industry—making schools much more productive.

And lectures just scratch the surface of what is possible. Online technology lets course content be presented in many engaging formats, including simulations, video and games. It lets students move through material at their own pace, day or night. It permits continuing assessment, individual tutoring online, customized reteaching of unlearned material, and the systematic collection of data on each student’s progress. In many ways, technology extends an elite-caliber education to the masses who would not otherwise have access to anything close.

College won’t be 100 percent online, Chubb and Moe predict. Students will “go to school and have face-to-face interactions within a community of scholars, but also do a portion of their work online.”

The “college experience” is very expensive.