PAYING FOR THE PARTY by Elizabeth A. Armstrong


How College Maintains Inequality
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How a large Midwestern state university (unnamed in this longitudinal study) does little to help young women move upward or outward from their working- and middle-class backgrounds.

Armstrong (Sociology and Organizational Studies/Univ. of Michigan) and Hamilton (Univ. of California, Merced) 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 authors conducted five annual interviews with their cohort of about 50 students (not all sat for all five interviews). The text looks and reads like the academic study that it is (many charts, some jargon, a conventional organization), but 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.

The prose is sometimes sluggish and the recommendations perhaps quixotic, but the portrait of the university features stark lines and alarming colors.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0674049574
Page count: 294pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2013


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