The GF and I have spent a lot of time talking about this as well, most recently with conversations sparked by the NY Times Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor. The NY Times has been doing a fair amount of coverage on how college is becoming more and more aristocratic, and this quote resonated with me, since it was referring to the study I had read almost ten years ago:
For one thing, the low-income students who enroll there tend to graduate. For another, research has shown that the individual college attended by upper-middle-class students has little effect on their eventual earnings, after controlling for their SAT scores. But it does seem to matter for poor students. They get something extra from a top college.
The GF pointed out a rad op-ed response today, Why Poor Students Struggle. Nothing particularly new here - students struggle because they don't have the support networks, don't know the "rules" of academia, the conventions of the middle-class and higher, etc. These ideas were touched on in Kirn's 2005 essay Lost in the Meritocracy, which apparently he leveraged into a full length memoir, published in 2009. While Kirn focuses on the fact that our system of education is really just a game, and if you jump through the hoops the right way, you can be a "success" without actually learning anything, he does spend a fair amount of time talking about how being the poor kid from rural Minnesota made the elite world of Princeton an eyeopener.
Today's editorial really focuses on this part, that even though you can play the game and make it into a great school, you likely won't fit in, and to continue on that track has a large cost:
To stay four years and graduate, students have to come to terms with the unspoken transaction: exchanging your old world for a new world, one that doesn’t seem to value where you came from. The transition is not just about getting a degree and making more money. If that was all socioeconomics signified, it would not be such a strong predictor of everything from SAT scores and parenting practices to health and longevity.
I laud the NY Times for highlighting these challenges, but the fact that the issues Kirn faced back when he was a student still exist today suggest that there is still a huge issue that needs to be addressed. I'm not sure what the answer is . . . a co-worker mentioned a study or experiment he had heard of, where they grouped the at-risk college students together, and had provided them with a support network (perhaps similar to Upward Bound?).