Monday, September 10, 2007

Getting the Piece of Paper

Amanda has a thoughtful analysis of class and college degrees up today. She begins by saying that as a first generation college student, her father wanted her in and out as soon as possible to get the return on the investment. The decision to get a college degree also says a lot about class:

The fact that a college degree is the entrance requirement to the middle class is not exactly controversial. I was listening to Marketplace last week and they had a story about lower income students striving to get that piece of paper, and they extracted this quote for the teaser on the story and for good reason:

Once a first-generation college student gets their degree, the likelihood that everyone in their lineage gets a degree increases exponentially.

That little factoid contains a world of information. First of all, it indicates the income difference for people who get degrees that they can expect college education for their children as a matter of fact. Second of all, it’s a staunch class indicator about entitlements and expectations; if you’re born to the college-educated middle class, doing anything but going to college after high school is breaking the mold and hard to do. I found that to be an interesting feature of both Kyso’s post and the discussion at Offsprung about majors—the discussion assumed that choosing a major is extremely meaningful, which points to an unacknowledged assumption that getting a college degree at all is expected and not really up for debate. That you will end up at the end of it all as a member of the middle class in good standing goes unquestioned if you’re born into it. The only discussion after that is whether you’ll be middle class because you have a job that’s a lot of fun but doesn’t put you in the BMW-buying category or if you have a job that does but might be a rat race job. It’s a good entitlement to have, but it’s important to remember that it is in fact an entitlement, mostly because we’re in situation now where decades of Republican dominance have shrunk the middle class (and therefore reduce the number of people who feel that entitlement) and they give every indication of hoping to shrink it further.

I think this is right. Once you're in a family that's college educated it's assumed that you will go to college. Unfortunately, those not from the college-educated middle class are overwhelmingly non-white. This creates extra hurdles for a young student considering college. Parents who didn't go to college tend to not be very supportive of the institution. There tends to be an attitude of, "I didn't go to college and turned out just fine."

I came from a middle-class family and was a third generation college student. It was assumed that I would go to college, so that's what I did. I'd be interested to hear more perspectives from first-generation college students.

Cross-posted at

1 comment:

matt said...

It's sure good to see that your college education wasn't wasted!!

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