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Costs of Higher Education Conference

The View from Up-high and Down-Low: The Non-Pursuit of Racial Equity on Two College Campuses

Author: Derria Byrd
Abstract: Although some recent higher education scholarship investigates the ways in which power relations within and across higher education institutions shape decision-making and practice, there is work to be done to understand how institutional power—as shaped by institutional social status—influences policy and practice on college campuses. Drawing on critical policy studies methods and the limited scholarship on diversity program implementation, this paper attends to the differential interpretation and implementation of an equity policy on two public college campuses of varied social status. Findings reveal differences in institutional approach, resources, and challenges by campus. Still a mystery remains even after taking note of differences in institutional status: neither campus made much progress regarding racial equity, a central concern of the focal policy. Given this outcome, implications for research, theory, and practice are discussed.


Providing a “Leg Up”: Parental Involvement and Opportunity Hoarding in College

Authors: Laura T. Hamilton, Josipa Roska, & Kelly Nielsen
Abstract: Although higher education scholars are increasingly exploring disparities within institutions, they have yet to examine how parental involvement contributes to social-class variation in students’ experiences. We ask, what role do parents play in producing divergent college experiences for students from different class backgrounds? Relying on interviews with 41 families, including mothers, fathers, and their daughters, we find that affluent parents serve as a ‘‘college concierge,’’ using class resources to provide youth with academic, social, and career support and access to exclusive university infrastructure. Less affluent parents, instead, describe themselves as ‘‘outsiders’’ who are unable to help their offspring and find the university unresponsive to their needs. Our findings suggest that affluent parents distinguish their children’s college experiences from those of peers, extending ‘‘effectively maintained inequality’’ beyond the K-12 education. Universities may be receptive of these efforts due to funding shifts that make recruiting affluent, out-of-state families desirable.

The authors recently published this paper in Sociology of Education.


Precarity and “College Affordability”

Author: Nancy Kendall and Matthew Wolfgram
Abstract: Research on higher education in the U.S. often focuses on “college affordability” as a key construct for understanding and facilitating access and achievement, particularly for low-income students who may struggle with persistent resource insecurity. Based on 18 months of ethnographic research that sought to document how low-income students at a public flagship university in the U.S. Midwest experienced college on a day-to-day basis, we argue that students experience college as a period of multifaceted (e.g., social, economic, physical, academic, spiritual) instability characterized by a persistent and durative state of the heightened contingency of their well-being. We call this situation precarity, which is experienced as an additive, holistic, and relational phenomena—as an accumulation of financial costs, one upon the next, and added holistically and seamlessly to social and academic “stresses” and the responses that students employ to manage in times of crisis. In this manuscript, we present ethnography case studies of students experiencing and managing precarity in college. Based on this evidence, we argue that the concept of precarity provides a more robust framework than “affordability” to understand higher education access and achievement, because it requires attention to the relational and institutional policies and practices and their effects on students.


Chapter 1 The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility

Author: Jennifer Morton
Abstract: This is the first chapter of a book on the Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility. It is widely accepted that students on the path of upward mobility—strivers—must make difficult sacrifices to transcend the circumstances into which they are born. What hasn’t been adequately appreciated is that some of the most important sacrifices strivers make are ethical, that is, they concern the most meaningful and valuable aspects of a human life. What is on the line is not just money, time, or hard work but their relationships with friends and family, the bonds they have with their community, and sometimes even their sense of identity. In this chapter, I argue that understanding the nature of these ethical goods moves us well beyond the cost-benefit analysis that might be appropriate when thinking about money, time, or effort. Once we have gotten clear on what is different about these ethical goods, we turn to considering why these costs are disproportionally born by strivers and their communities.


The Limits of Justice as Fairness: The Case of Higher Education

Author: David O’Brien
Abstract: Many philosophers and education policy scholars believe that justice requires that current U.S. higher education arrangements be significantly altered. In this paper I argue that, if John Rawls’s influential conception of justice, justice as fairness, is correct, then some of the reforms that these people have urged (e.g., ending legacy admissions policies, altering university admissions policies to promote fair equality of opportunity, and individual university professors nudging some well-off students into socially valuable occupations) are not required (or permitted) by justice. I explain why two internally well-motivated features of justice as fairness–which I call Compensation and Internal Life–entail that, if justice as fairness is correct, certain interventions on certain elements of a society’s basic structure are not required (or permitted) by justice. I then argue that, because of Compensation and Internal Life, intuitively attractive university reform proposals like those mentioned above are not required (or permitted) by justice, if justice as fairness is correct. I conclude by showing that other theories of justice can vindicate the beliefs of those who favor these intuitively attractive reform proposals.


The Ethics of Doctoral Admissions

Author: Bryan Warnick
Abstract: According to the Economist, “America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships.” Why might this be a problem? There are two ethical issues. First, by continuing to offer and promote PhD programs, universities may be perpetuating a type of deceit that harms students. Second, by continuing to offer expensive PhD program, universities are misappropriating resources, taking money away from programs that could be used to make college more accessible and affordable. In response to these issues, some commentators have argued that PhD programs should drastically limit enrollment or be eliminated altogether, that is, implement “academic birth control.” There are a number of reasons, however, to resist academic birth control. The first reason has to do with how limiting PhD admissions borders on being paternalistic. Some people see their personal self-development as involving, in part, advanced study in a subject that fascinates them. PhD programs involve areas of technical expertise that are difficult to master through amateur study. There are other consequential considerations. First, PhD students make important contributions to the intellectual life of universities during their study. Second, PhD graduates make important contributions to the cultural life of the larger societies. Thus, the continued existence of robust PhD programs may be justified in spite of the dismal job market. This does not mean, though, that no changes need to be made in PhD programs and program admission procedures. Rather than simply strictly limiting PhD admissions, we should instead try to develop an “ethics of admission.” Graduate faculty have the responsibility to achieve a certain type of continuous informed consent, which ensures student understanding of the job market along with the realities of life as a graduate student. In addition, because both the students and the economic landscape change over time, graduate faculty should also take steps to help make the PhD more marketable, helping students to develop the skills and credentials that will be useful to future life outside of academic. Finally, faculty have the responsibility to make sure that their PhD programs are, in fact, fulfilling their potential by enriching university life and larger cultural life.


A Defense and Example of Collegiate Curriculum Beyond Remedial Courses for Open-Access Institutions: Philosophy 101

Author: Alan White
Abstract: Are there good reasons to offer the introductory philosophy course as a survey course, especially since most who take that course never enroll in another philosophy course?

I will argue that in general–and particularly for open-access institutions–the answer is “no”. Then I will provide and defend an alternative, one that I have developed over my own career at an open-access two-year liberal arts institution in the University of Wisconsin System.


The Costs of Suboptimal Instruction and Mentoring in Public Research Universities

Author(s): Harry Brighouse