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Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality Hardcover – April 8, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In typical frat parties, Armstrong and Hamilton see much that is wrong with college education today. Such parties allow daughters of the affluent to flaunt their social advantages while exposing the vulnerabilities of female students from less-privileged backgrounds. Unfortunately, the authors find such parties well established in the “party pathway” through the university. Focusing on female students, the authors find from campus observations and interviews ample evidence that four years on the party pathway will open doors of power for the elite while stranding the wannabes with mountains of student-loan debt and few employment options for paying off that debt. The authors suggest a number of reforms—including the abolition of Greek fraternities, the termination of legacy admissions for the offspring of rich alumni, and the replacement of the college “party pathway” with a “mobility pathway” giving struggling students generous financial aid, supportive remedial courses, and a direct path to good careers. A provocative exposé of socially polarizing trends in higher education—certain to spark debate. --Bryce Christensen

Review

In this bold book, Armstrong and Hamilton capture the strikingly different pathways women undergraduates can take through public universities--'party,' 'professional,' or 'mobility'--and show how the dominant campus culture indulges the upper-middle class and limits the prospect of the upwardly mobile. The authors show the complex connections between parental resources, sociability, educational outcome, post-graduation lives, and the importance of the right brand of shoes. This book illuminates the realities of the college experience today, when an adult life without crushing debt is fast becoming the privilege of the few. (Michèle Lamont, author of How Professors Think)

Paying for the Party is very provocative and should be read by every dean of students on every residential campus. At a time when women are making rapid progress in educational attainment compared to men, Armstrong and Hamilton show how young women's academics, social lives, and labor-market opportunities get aligned in college--and what happens when they do not. (Mitchell Stevens, author of Creating a Class)

By focusing on the lives of young women who spent freshman year living on a 'party floor,' Armstrong and Hamilton help us understand critical issues facing American higher education, including the out-sized role of sororities and fraternities and how the values of affluent students coincide with the interests of universities to empower the 'party pathway.' Richly observed and vividly narrated, this is an important ethnography of American campus life. (Steven Brint, University of California, Riverside)

With astute observations and insights, Paying for the Party sheds new light on the lived experiences of contemporary students. It is a very important piece of scholarship that will inform the national discourse on the current state of U.S. higher education. (Richard Arum, author of Academically Adrift)

Armstrong and Hamilton report the results of their five-year study of a group of young women who began in the same freshman dorm but ended up in very different situations. The constraints of social and economic class remained formidable, and moving into the professional class seemed virtually impossible, especially for those women who followed what the authors call 'the party pathway.' Women from more privileged backgrounds survived their partying through school due to their more substantial support systems at home. We also see how difficult the college adjustment was for less talented students and for women from modest backgrounds and small towns...The conclusions are sobering, if not depressing. Armstrong and Hamilton assail the university itself for a number of failures, including an ineffectual system of student advising; a plethora of meaningless majors and courses designed to attract full-paying students, many of whom have no intention of actually pursuing such a career; and its continuing support for the fraternity/sorority system, which the authors contend undermines the very academic mission of the university. Athletics take some major blame, as well. The authors also discovered that some of the women who transferred to regional campuses performed better and were happier. (Kirkus Reviews 2013-02-15)

In typical frat parties, Armstrong and Hamilton see much that is wrong with college education today. Such parties allow daughters of the affluent to flaunt their social advantages while exposing the vulnerabilities of female students from less-privileged backgrounds. Unfortunately, the authors find such parties well established in the 'party pathway' through the university. Focusing on female students, the authors find from campus observations and interviews ample evidence that four years on the party pathway will open doors of power for the elite while stranding the wannabes with mountains of student-loan debt and few employment options for paying off that debt...A provocative exposé of socially polarizing trends in higher education--certain to spark debate. (Bryce Christensen Booklist 2013-04-01)

Armstrong and Hamilton pepper the book with student interviews, and ultimately suggest substantial changes to university structure for creating an egalitarian, merit-based environment. The extensive research and approachable writing style make this book useful to any audience interested in learning more about social differences within the education system. (Publishers Weekly 2013-04-26)

Focusing on the pathways leading to the college experience, the authors reveal an honest, if at times unflattering, look at the reality of the academic experience for women of both high and low socioeconomic status. Packed in with the data derived from the authors' interviews is an intimate portrait of the study's participants combined with researcher commentary that clarifies what the data represent: an unsettling picture of universities failing to lessen the disadvantages facing many of their students...This work will provide spectacular insights into gender and schooling and serve as a useful example of how to report ethnographic research. (Rachel Wadham Library Journal (starred review) 2013-05-15)

A striking new book...Although full of the comedies, rivalries and mini-dramas one might find in a high school movie or romcom, it is also a serious--and seriously depressing--study of American higher education. (Matthew Reisz Times Higher Education 2013-05-09)

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. (Ross Douthat New York Times 2014-05-03)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674049578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674049574
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Michael Goeller on July 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There have been some anthropological and sociological studies of college life over the years. I was actually a participant in Michael Moffatt's classic "Coming of Age in New Jersey," but I'd be the first to say that he was just scratching the surface. "My Freshman Year" by Cathy Small (under the name Rebekah Nathan) is also occasionally insightful but based only on the author's limited experience. Holland and Eisenhart's "Educated in Romance" comes closer to what Armstrong and her group of grad students were trying to achieve, in trying to understand the female experience of college, but the end result in "Paying for the Party" is so much more detailed and all-encompassing of student life than that or any book written so far. We can talk all we want about raising academic standards and such, but if we ignore the role of student life at college we are missing the most important dimension of the college experience for students -- and the part of their experience that most determines how much they will focus on their studies, whether or not they will persist in school (much more than academics), and what sort of success they will have after they graduate. This book is an absolute revelation -- showing how important the party culture is for students who follow "the party pathway" through school, and just how that culture serves the interests of the most affluent and well connected students to the detriment of all the rest. A powerful and compelling thesis.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By guest1972 on March 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Many scholars and pundits speculate about the experiences of college students, but few bring any new insight into this topic. Paying for the Party is the rare exception. Using an impressive arsenal of data from interviews and observations, Armstrong and Hamilton present a clear-eyed and highly persuasive account of the lives of college women. Unlike most academic books, this one is beautifully written. It's a must read for scholars of education, parents of college students, university administrators, and anyone else interested in higher education.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Whittaker on September 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I just got done reading the book at the basis of this article, which looks at the paths taken by 54 students that lived on the same floor as freshmen in a so-called "party dorm" at a flagship state university somewhere in the Midwest. As a guy that would have fit into the striver module described here that spent his Freshman year on a party floor at a regional school with a party reputation and (at the time) a Greek system that provided many of the party mechanisms (along with some club sports teams), I experienced or viewed first hand many of the issues that the student from smaller communities experienced as students. While I had two advantages that most people from similar socioeconomic backgrounds did not have (attending a highly competitive public high school that provided me with the tools to excel at the college level and grandparents that, in desiring for their grandchildren to succeed, helped to ensure that I was able to graduate from Brockport without debt), I still experienced many of the issues that people from lower class backgrounds experienced, both socially and in not knowing what rungs might need to be climbed in order to move up and on into a career path. As someone that (after much trial and (mainly) error, was able to go to graduate school (in part due to the GI Bill) at a place similar to the school described here where I was able to observe first hand the country-clubization of the modern university education with upscale gyms, on-campus movie theaters, and off-campus resort style living options available for those with the resources, I have been able to understand how the depressing results described here (none of the students from lower middle and lower class backgrounds were able to move in a career direction, at least during the the time frame of the study).Read more ›
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By hmf22 on September 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Paying for the Party is a sociological study of about 50 women who roomed on the same floor of a freshman dormitory at a big public university in the Midwest. The research team tracked almost all of the women for five years, through college and the first year or so after college. They identify three major orientations towards the college experience among the women they studied: the party pathway, embraced mainly by well-to-do socialites who see college as an opportunity to network and acquire social poise that will allow them to marry well; the achievers' pathway, which combined a more academic and careerist orientation with a modest amount of partying; and the social mobility pathway, in which pragmatically oriented lower and lower-middle-class students sought to rise above their roots. Armstrong and Hamilton argue that big state universities tend to serve students in this order, providing easy access to and ample support for the party pathway, which is decidedly non-academic and utterly unsuitable for anyone without substantial financial resources. While the achievement pathway is well-resourced, it tends to be a high-stakes endeavor; well-prepared students with attentive parents fare well, while underprepared students and students whose parents can't or won't provide extra advising and financial support fall by the wayside. Finally, students from poor or small town backgrounds tend to fare poorly at big state universities unless "creamed" into selective programs early on; ironically, the mobility-oriented students who fared best were the ones who withdrew from Midwest U. and transferred to commuter branch campuses closer to where they grew up.

This book is a must-read for any administrator or faculty member at a big public university.
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