How to level the other playing fields

Opportunities outside the classroom are a valuable part of the college experience.

Sociologist Jenny Stuber has devoted her career to studying inequality in higher education. Her first book, “Inside the College Gates: How Class and Culture Matter in Higher Education” (Lexington Books), looks at the role extracurricular activities play in maintaining class structures.

How are extracurricular activities in college different than in high school?

There are more of them to navigate and they have higher stakes. Suddenly there are research opportunities, internships, Greek life, et cetera. Some students are better prepared to navigate that — based on past experiences — than others.

How can colleges make this situation better?

There’s a long generational history of people with a social class advantage being able to reproduce that advantage in universities. Students from working-class backgrounds are always going to be playing catchup in the big picture. But in the small picture, there are things colleges can and should do. It’s really a lot of intense work to create smaller learning units, to be very intentional about how residential life is set up and to reduce barriers to living on campus.


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