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Paying for the Party

Paying for the Party

Elizabeth A. Armstrong
Laura T. Hamilton
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Paying for the Party
    Book Description:

    In an era of skyrocketing tuition and concern over whether college is "worth it," Paying for the Party is an indispensable contribution to the dialogue assessing the state of American higher education. A powerful exposé of unmet obligations and misplaced priorities, it explains in detail why so many leave college with so little to show for it.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07351-7
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    Taylor and Emma started college at Midwest University during the fall of 2004.¹ They had a lot in common. They lived on the same residence hall floor and planned to pursue careers in dentistry.² Like virtually all of their floormates, they were white, American-born, heterosexual, unmarried with no children, and roughly eighteen years old.³ Both had strong high school records: Emma had earned ʺstraight Aʹs and was in all of the advanced placement classesʺ (Y1).⁴ Taylor reported a 3.78 high school grade point average (GPA). Although Taylorʹs family was more affluent than Emmaʹs, both were from middle- or upper-middle-class families....

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Women
    (pp. 26-49)

    Hannah, an East Coast student who lived on our floor, described her grandparents as ʺrich beyond the money worldʺ (Y1). Her grandparents paid for all nine grandchildrenʹs college expenses even though Hannahʹs father was the chief financial officer of a Fortune 500 company. Hannah matriculated at MU after an extensive college search. She initially focused on Penn State, UConn, Rhode Island, and Delaware, but her high school advisor suggested that she look at ʺ[Big State U] and MU because they are [in the same football conference] and [have] the huge big feeling of spiritʺ (Y1). She visited both, and although...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Party Pathway
    (pp. 50-73)

    Web sites designed to match students to colleges consistently refer those looking for the ʺparty sceneʺ and ʺGreek lifeʺ to Midwest U. On one, an insider asked to provide the stereotype of students at MU noted that the university is full of kids who came to party and that academics suffer as a result. Some commenters sought to debunk the assumption that this applies to all MU students. For example, one even reassured future non-Greeks that they would be part of the majority. However, no one pretended that it was easy to ignore the Greek system. Another insider warned prospective...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Rush and the Party Scene
    (pp. 74-93)

    Chapter 2 provided insight into the university architecture that enabled the party scene. Yet without analysis of the peer cultures students produced in and around this infrastructure, the story is incomplete. A rich peer culture rewarding a gender style reflecting wealth, whiteness, and heterosexuality made participation in the party pathway compelling. Socially ambitious students invested heavily in the Greek system and the party scene as these were the prime venues in which social and erotic competition occurred. Women who accrued status among other women by winning spots in top sororities and who were seen as desirable by men in the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Floor
    (pp. 94-117)

    Alanaʹs first year at college was miserable, but not because of her coursework; in fact, she was one of few women excited about her studies. Our field notes recount Alana sharing information from her sociology class and moves from her belly dancing class. Even though her finite math class presented a challenge, she claimed that there was ʺnothing like the satisfaction of solving a difficult math problemʺ (Field Notes 8/31/04). During her first-year interview, she queried Elizabeth about a sexuality class offered at MU and excitedly remarked, ʺThereʹs just so many cool classesʺ (Y1). Indeed, as the quotation at the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Socialites, Wannabes, and Fit with the Party Pathway
    (pp. 118-147)

    Socialites and wannabes included ten women who arrived ʺprimed to partyʺ and six who came to MU by default but quickly became party pathway recruits. For these sixteen women, college did not officially start until Greek life was in full swing.¹ Most partied at least four days a week for stretches of college and perceived such participation as obligatory. As one woman put it, ʺI went out a lot freshman year, but now I donʹt. I mean, I go out Wednesday through Saturday night.Sometimes take a night off in the weekendʺ (Melanie Y4, emphasis added). Academics were a means...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Strivers, Creaming, and the Blocked Mobility Pathway
    (pp. 148-179)

    The life Megan describes above, filled with studying, waitressing, and domestic work, bears little resemblance to the lives of the socialites and wannabes described in the previous chapter. Although somewhat extreme in her work ethic, the centrality of paid work to Meganʹs life was shared by virtually all of the working- and lower-middle-class women on the floor. These women, whom we call strivers, could not afford to treat college as a luxury vacation.¹ In fact, with little to no parental financial support, they could barely afford to be there at all.

    United by their financial circumstances during college, not everyone...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Achievers, Underachievers, and the Professional Pathway
    (pp. 180-208)

    Thirty-eight percent of women resembled Taylor and Emma, the two dentistry hopefuls profiled at the start of the book. They all attempted, with varying levels of motivation and preparation, to use the professional pathway as a means to achieve a lucrative professional career.¹ Generally less affluent than socialites and more affluent than strivers, women in this group were perhaps more typical of college students at MU than those discussed so far. Many spent their time in ways that most hope college students will—engaged in academics while socializing moderately.

    Just as not all on the party pathway fared equally well,...

  13. CHAPTER 8 College Pathways and Post-College Prospects
    (pp. 209-233)

    The words above reflect the disappointment of a striverʹs father with his daughterʹs experience at Midwest University.¹ From his perspective, the university did not deliver on its promise. Indeed, for most students like his daughter—and some from far more privileged backgrounds—MU did not provide what is often expected of and promised by large research universities: a ticket into the upper-middle class.

    Below we look at womenʹs trajectories as they left college. We explain why some left MU on track for either class mobility or reproduction of privileged class status and others did not. Successful women were able to...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Politics and Pathways
    (pp. 234-252)

    Karen, a middle-class wannabe profiled in Chapter 5, got on track academically only after she left Midwest University and transferred to a regional campus back home. She was not alone. In previous chapters we learned that four of the five women from working- and lower-middle-class backgrounds who were headed toward upward mobility also transferred to regional campuses. Their experiences suggest that many students would be better served by Midwest University if the party pathway was less prominent and other pathways more developed.

    In this chapter we outline ways to challenge the party pathway, revitalize the mobility pathway, and broaden access...

  15. APPENDIX A: Participants
    (pp. 255-262)
  16. APPENDIX B: Studying Social Class
    (pp. 263-266)
  17. APPENDIX C: Data Collection, Analysis, and Writing
    (pp. 267-274)
  18. APPENDIX D: Ethical Considerations
    (pp. 275-278)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 279-296)
  20. References
    (pp. 297-316)
  21. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 317-322)
  22. Index
    (pp. 323-326)