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Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality Hardcover – March 11, 2013
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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
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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The three college “pathways” defined in the book are professional, party and mobility.
Those on the “professional” pathway are the high achievers, who, generally, come from professional families, the doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. They have excellent financial support in college, so they are not expected to work while there. They have the most contacts for meaningful internships, as well. Most in this pathway are successful in meeting their college goals, due, in a large part, because they are very well-prepared and counseled before and during their college experience. College is not a big deal to them. It is an essential step in their quest for professional success.
Those on the “mobility” pathway have lower-middle or working-class backgrounds. They are motivated to find careers that will take them places, for example not back to their home towns. Not all will succeed. They lack preparation for the college experience and financial backing. Most need to work during college. Few are able to reach the professional pathway and go on to graduate school.
Then there is the “party” pathway. These kids are all over the place. Many are from out of state; thus, they pay higher tuition and other costs. They tend to take “easy” majors, join fraternities or sororities and strive to finish with a degree that probably does not lead directly to a job. Some have vocations already defined for them back home, e.g., to work in a family business. Others think that being good at interacting with others will lead them to opportunities that do not required “hard” degrees. Many of the women are there to learn, primarily, how to be a “good wife.” Many are there primarily to perfect the socialite life.
This book is based on a five-year interview study, plus follow-ups, of about 50 women students at a mid-west college that the authors name “MU.” Multiple times, the book points out the distinction between this level of college or university and the state college universities. It is clear that “MU” is a prestigious school in many ways and that it is at a much higher status level than the state college universities. It is relatively hard to get into MU, and not everyone is going to make it at MU.
Clearly, funding from parents is a major component for success at MU, as is the educational level of parents. If your parents have gone to college, then they know the ropes. If not, you are, for the most part, on your own. Some of the kids enter MU with a great deal of knowledge about the school, itself; for others, it is like entering “another world,” something they have never experienced.
The flow of the book is bit ragged. There are comparisons between girls. There are individual studies of a single girl. There are groups examined, together. Yes, while it is true that there are many variables to discuss and compare, it would still seem that the book could have been organized better.
At the same time, the stories and information presented keeps one interested and makes for a very good book, I think.
There is plenty of bad news. For example, about 60% of those on the professional pathway do not make it, per one section of the book, and despite what I said above. They are not headed by the time of graduation to graduate school in their chosen profession. The competition in this professional pathway is fierce. It is the survival of the fittest, and the financial and other parental support can mean all the difference.
Most on the party pathway did not see themselves on the way to graduate school or a profession, such as medicine or engineering. Their dilemma is that their degree is not going to get them a good job, for the most part. It does not give them skills that lead directly to a good job. Many find jobs after graduation that do not even require a college degree. One, for example, with a degree in Biology, ends up working as a dental assistant for $11 per hour.
One of the girls develops a serious problem with alcohol. She has to drop out and go into rehab.
Many in the party or mobility pathway lack funds after graduation to live in areas with good jobs. In short, all that partying experience is not going to pay the bills after graduation. And, if you have student debt to pay after graduation, that is another problem. None of the girls from a working-class background, most who had to work to pay their bills, were able to graduate in four years.
Joining a sorority tends to keep students on the party pathway; although, one or two sororities seek high-achievers on the professional pathway. Most do not. But then there are the ones who do not get selected by sororities at all. They can lead lonely, isolated lives in comparison with those selected, as those selected tend to only associate with others in sororities.
As graduates, those with degrees in business seemed to have the smoothest path directly into a good job.
The author makes a bit of a case that the college/university structure needs changes. One suggestion is that fraternities and sororities be banned, but few schools are willing to do that. Another is that the schools provide more support to those seeking mobility.
The shocker remains that, per this book, most who go to college go, primarily, to socialize and party. And, without that group, most colleges would probably have to close their doors.
That would end a lot of fun for a lot of college students, many of whom are simply in their extended adolescent stage..
I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a framework for thinking about the academic and social options at any school and coming up with a strategy for navigating them.