College, the great unequalizer

College, the great unequalizer

The title is “Paying for the Party,” and the subtitle is “How College Maintains Inequality.” (I can tell, you’re waking up already.) The authors, Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, and a team of researchers embedded themselves in a freshman dormitory at an unnamed high-profile Midwestern state school and then kept up with a group of female students through college and into graduate or professional life.

Their project, as conceived, was supposed to be about sex and romance. In the end, though, it turned out to be mostly about class.

That’s because what the authors discovered were the many ways in which collegiate social life, as embraced by students and blessed by the university, works to disadvantage young women (and no doubt young men, too) who need their education to be something other than a four-year-long spree. Instead of being a great equalizer, “Paying for the Party” argues, the American way of college rewards those who come not just academically but socially prepared, while treating working-class students more cruelly, and often leaving them adrift.

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