Dr. Ann L. Mullen studied at Yale in the early 2000s; and like almost all of her colleagues, she had zero interaction with students attending Southern Connecticut State University. The schools are separated by a 2 mile stretch of Goffe Street in New Haven, but are worlds apart in terms of privilege and attitudes toward education.

“The contrast was really intriguing from a sociological point of view. Over half of the parents of [SCSU] students didn’t attend college. That was pretty rare for a person attending Yale,” says Mullen, from her office at the University of Toronto.

Her latest book, “Degrees of Inequality,” is based on hundreds of interviews with students from both schools. They catalog the way in which class and privilege affect our perceptions and even enjoyment of higher of education.

“Because I’ve been a middle-class student, I was really familiar with this belief that college is more than just completing a major. It’s an experience that encompasses living on your own for the first time, making friends, joining clubs,” says Mullen. “I was surprised at the degree to which that was completely absent for [SCSU] students. They thought of it more as work. It’s something that you have to do to get a reward at the end.”

At least for the students of SCSU and Yale, Mullen found that higher education does not diminish class divisions in terms of physical interactions or psychological perceptions. It actually exacerbates them: “We keep looking to higher education as a fix for a lot of other structural inequalities. Like if we can just get more people to go to university, we can start to level inequality. But I’ve become convinced that higher education is not the solution. Social problems can’t be fixed at that high a level.”

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