Special Issue "Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education"

A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 July 2018)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Vikki Boliver

Department of Sociology, Durham University, 32 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HN, UK
Website | E-Mail
Interests: fair access to higher education; social inequalities; social mobility
Guest Editor
Prof. Simon Marginson

UCL Institute of Education, University College London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, UK
Website | E-Mail
Interests: global higher education; competition and markets in higher education; public goods; higher education finance; high participation systems of higher education

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Social Sciences will bring together the latest social scientific thinking and evidence on the relationship between social stratification and inequality in access to, and the benefits from, higher education.

High participation systems of higher education are becoming the norm worldwide, and yet access to higher education remains significantly stratified by social background. Those from disadvantaged social backgrounds continue to be much less likely to enter higher education, especially the most prestigious institutions and fields of study; they are less likely to successfully complete their studies when they do enrol; and they can be less certain of reaping the promised returns to a degree on the labour market once they graduate.

The Special Issue will bring together a collection of high-quality papers, authored by sociologists and economists of higher education at a range of career points. The issue aims to include conceptual pieces, as well as theoretically informed empirical work focused on social inequality in relation to one or more high participation systems. The papers will present new critical insights into the relationship between social stratification and inequality in access to higher education and offer new perspectives on what is to be done about it.

Prof. Vikki Boliver
Prof. Simon Marginson
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Social Sciences is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Higher education
  • Social inequality
  • Social class
  • ‘Race’ and ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Fair access
  • Meritocracy
  • Elite universities
  • Student experiences
  • Graduate outcomes

Published Papers (16 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Privileging the Privileged: The Effects of International University Rankings on a Chilean Fellowship Program for Graduate Studies Abroad
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(12), 243; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7120243
Received: 31 July 2018 / Revised: 16 November 2018 / Accepted: 16 November 2018 / Published: 22 November 2018
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Abstract
In the last few decades, many developing countries have dramatically expanded the number of government-sponsored fellowships for graduate studies abroad to increase their participation in the knowledge economy. To award these grants, these programs have typically relied on international university rankings as their [...] Read more.
In the last few decades, many developing countries have dramatically expanded the number of government-sponsored fellowships for graduate studies abroad to increase their participation in the knowledge economy. To award these grants, these programs have typically relied on international university rankings as their main selection criterion. Existing studies suggest these fellowships have been disproportionally awarded to applicants from privileged social backgrounds, thus intensifying existing national educational inequalities. However, this evidence is mostly anecdotal and descriptive in nature. In this article, we focus on a Chilean fellowship program, an iconic example of these policies. Using a causal path analysis mediation model and relying on social reproduction and stratification theories, we investigated whether the distribution of fellowships varied across applicants from different socioeconomic backgrounds and how university rankings affect applicants’ chances of obtaining the fellowship. Our findings revealed that, in a context of high social inequalities and a stratified education system, using international rankings as an awarding criterion reinforced the position of privilege of individuals who accrued educational advantages in high school, as well as the disadvantages of those less fortunate who faced fewer prior educational opportunities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Using the Lens of ‘Possible Selves’ to Explore Access to Higher Education: A New Conceptual Model for Practice, Policy, and Research
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 209; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100209
Received: 13 August 2018 / Revised: 30 September 2018 / Accepted: 15 October 2018 / Published: 22 October 2018
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Abstract
The concept of ‘aspiration-raising’ has been ubiquitous in the discussion of differential rates of participation in higher education in England for many years. Potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds are constructed as setting their sights too low and therefore not considering higher education or [...] Read more.
The concept of ‘aspiration-raising’ has been ubiquitous in the discussion of differential rates of participation in higher education in England for many years. Potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds are constructed as setting their sights too low and therefore not considering higher education or ignoring elite universities that they could access. However, it is increasingly understood that aspiration-raising is unable to explain patterns of participation and that it risks ‘blaming the victim’ by failing to appreciate the structural constraints forged through their sociocultural context. The purpose of this paper is to present an alternative lens in the form of ‘possible selves’. This is drawn from the discipline of psychology and aims to explain how we all conceive and develop visions of ourselves in future states. These images create a motivational impetus for actions in the present in order to achieve a like-to-be self—or evade a like-to-avoid self. Notably, the theory takes specific account of the individual’s expectations and the importance of having a clear pathway towards a long-term destination. This paper provides an overview of the foundational theory and empirical evidence for a general readership, before presenting a new conceptual model focused on access to higher education. This is then used to explore the principles that might underpin interventions to support participation from disadvantaged groups within highly stratified systems, as well as suggesting a new policy agenda and priorities for future research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Institutional Expectations and Students’ Responses to the College Application Essay
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 205; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100205
Received: 27 July 2018 / Revised: 15 October 2018 / Accepted: 16 October 2018 / Published: 20 October 2018
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Abstract
This paper explores inequality along the path to college through an analysis of college admissions essays and institutional documents that shape admissions expectations in the United States. The research considers how successful applicants from two different universities and students who are the first [...] Read more.
This paper explores inequality along the path to college through an analysis of college admissions essays and institutional documents that shape admissions expectations in the United States. The research considers how successful applicants from two different universities and students who are the first in their families to go to college compared to those who are not, approach the college essay in relation to the presented institutional expectations. The sample consists of institutional materials from two universities, one a small private university and one a large public institution. Institutional materials also include documents from college preparatory agencies (such as Kaplan and Khan Academy). Thirty-five student essays were collected from the same two universities mentioned above. Through values analysis, a narrative analysis method, I ask how students with less exposure to the culture of college (taken for granted knowledge about college that is passed down from families) perform the college essay genre. Findings show that students with less exposure to the culture of college focus more on challenges and narrate less expression of their “true selves” in their college admissions essays. Findings can help stakeholders create a more equitable college admissions process that more clearly illuminates institutional expectations for students. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle Social Class Inequalities in Graduates’ Labour Market Outcomes: The Role of Spatial Job Opportunities
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 201; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100201
Received: 4 August 2018 / Revised: 21 September 2018 / Accepted: 11 October 2018 / Published: 19 October 2018
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Abstract
This paper provides new important evidence on the spatial dimension of social class inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes, an aspect largely overlooked within the existing literature. Using data from the HESA Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Early and Longitudinal Survey (DLHE) [...] Read more.
This paper provides new important evidence on the spatial dimension of social class inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes, an aspect largely overlooked within the existing literature. Using data from the HESA Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Early and Longitudinal Survey (DLHE) for the 2008/09 graduate cohort and applying multilevel logistic regression models, we investigate whether and the extent to which social class inequalities in graduates’ occupational outcomes vary depending on the job opportunities in the geographical area where they find employment. By examining different macro-level indicators, we find wider social inequalities by parental social class in areas with fewer opportunities in high professional and managerial occupations and smaller inequalities in areas with more opportunities. Interestingly, this pattern applies only to graduates who moved away from their place of origin. We interpret this finding as the result of selective migration, that is, areas with more opportunities attract the better-qualified graduates irrespective of their social origin. Finally, graduates’ HE experiences—in particular, their field of study—and sector of employment explain most of the social class gap in areas with fewer job opportunities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Understanding Mental Health: What Are the Issues for Black and Ethnic Minority Students at University?
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 196; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100196
Received: 12 August 2018 / Revised: 5 October 2018 / Accepted: 8 October 2018 / Published: 13 October 2018
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Abstract
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities continue to experience inequalities within the United Kingdom (UK) mental health system despite major government policy initiatives. Access to higher education for many ethnic minorities remains problematic. Within higher education, BME students consistently face barriers in terms [...] Read more.
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities continue to experience inequalities within the United Kingdom (UK) mental health system despite major government policy initiatives. Access to higher education for many ethnic minorities remains problematic. Within higher education, BME students consistently face barriers in terms of accessing culturally appropriate services including a lack of cultural understanding, communication issues, and where and how to seek help. This paper attempts to address the problems facing ethnic minorities with regard to accessing mental health services at university. Importantly, this paper highlights that barriers to accessing mental health support for ethnic minorities directly impact upon attainment outcomes and psychological well-being. This study utilizes the narratives of 32 BME university students to examine the impact of negotiating racial inequality and discrimination at university and the impact upon mental health. Aspects examined considered the impact of belonging, isolation, and marginalization on mental health and how this consequently affects university participation for BME students. Utilizing a thematic analysis paradigm, the key findings presented point towards differential healthcare outcomes for ethnic minority university students experiencing mental illness. The empirical findings in this paper suggest that currently ethnic minority service users experience overt discrimination and a lack of access to culturally appropriate services that are cognizant of the racialized plights faced by BME individuals. These findings inform an overarching dialogue, which suggests that mental health service providers need to work more collegially with people from BME communities prior to service design and delivery. Furthermore, the findings suggest that, upon presenting mental health issues, information should be made available in appropriate languages for ethnic minorities to support understanding about their illnesses and how they can seek professional intervention and help. Conclusions and recommendations provided advocate greater diversification of mental health support systems for ethnic minority students within universities. Conclusions drawn will also consider how existing systems can function to dismantle racial inequality within the mental health profession. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle Signalling the ‘Multi-Local’ University? The Place of the City in the Growth of London-Based Satellite Campuses, and the Implications for Social Stratification
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 195; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100195
Received: 19 July 2018 / Revised: 25 September 2018 / Accepted: 8 October 2018 / Published: 13 October 2018
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Abstract
Around 2009 some UK universities (based outside of the capital) began to open ‘satellite campuses’ in London. There are currently 14 such campuses at present, which have been developed primarily with an international student market in mind. Concerns have been raised, however, about [...] Read more.
Around 2009 some UK universities (based outside of the capital) began to open ‘satellite campuses’ in London. There are currently 14 such campuses at present, which have been developed primarily with an international student market in mind. Concerns have been raised, however, about the quality of teaching on these campuses and the fact that student attainment is ostensibly falling significantly below that for the ‘home’ campus. This project is the first of its kind to investigate, systematically, the ways in which universities are representing themselves in relation to these campuses (data include an analysis of prospectuses, YouTube content, websites and material garnered at open days). Using these data, we discuss the role that the City of London plays as a pivotal backdrop to these developments: the way it serves to substitute and compensate for lower levels of resources provided directly to the student from the university (here we consider accommodation, the outsourcing of teaching, the absence of a substantive campus environment and a general lack of focus on ‘pedagogical’ matters in almost all marketing materials). Instead, the universities place London at the front and centre of attempts to ‘sell’ the campus to potential students. The paper makes some innovative conceptual links between work in migration studies on the role and function of global cities in attracting workers and the way in which the city operates in this case to attract international students. These campuses feed into debates around the increasing inequalities evidenced as a consequence of the internationalisation of higher education, even when such developments are ostensibly ‘domestic’. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle Student Choice in Higher Education—Reducing or Reproducing Social Inequalities?
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 189; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100189
Received: 2 August 2018 / Revised: 14 September 2018 / Accepted: 17 September 2018 / Published: 9 October 2018
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Abstract
A hallmark of recent higher education policy in developed economies is the move towards quasi-markets involving greater student choice and provider competition, underpinned by cost-sharing policies. This paper examines the idealizations and illusions of student choice and marketization in higher education policy in [...] Read more.
A hallmark of recent higher education policy in developed economies is the move towards quasi-markets involving greater student choice and provider competition, underpinned by cost-sharing policies. This paper examines the idealizations and illusions of student choice and marketization in higher education policy in England, although the overall conclusions have relevance for other countries whose higher education systems are shaped by neoliberal thinking. First, it charts the evolution of the student-choice rationale through an analysis of government commissioned reports, white papers, and legislation, focusing on policy rhetoric and the purported benefits of increasing student choice and provider competition. Second, the paper tests the predictions advanced by the student-choice rationale—increased and wider access, improved institutional quality, and greater provider responsiveness to the labour market—and finds them largely not met. Finally, the paper explores how conceptual deficiencies in the student-choice model explain why the idealization of student choice has largely proved illusionary. Government officials have narrowly conceptualized students as rational calculators primarily weighing the economic costs and benefits of higher education and the relative quality of institutions and programs. There is little awareness that student choices are shaped by several other factors as well and that these vary considerably by social background. The paper concludes that students’ choices are socially constrained and stratified, reproducing and legitimating social inequality. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Revisiting the Issues of Access to Higher Education and Social Stratification through the Case of Refugees: A Comparative Study of Spaces of Opportunity for Refugee Students in Germany and England
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 186; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100186
Received: 26 July 2018 / Revised: 20 September 2018 / Accepted: 29 September 2018 / Published: 3 October 2018
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Abstract
This paper presents new insights into the relationship between inequality in access to higher education and social stratification through the analytical lens of refugees’ access to high participation systems of higher education (HPS). Taking stock of the growing numbers of refugees and their [...] Read more.
This paper presents new insights into the relationship between inequality in access to higher education and social stratification through the analytical lens of refugees’ access to high participation systems of higher education (HPS). Taking stock of the growing numbers of refugees and their increasing—yet still marginal—demand for accessing higher education, the paper analyses the specific statuses and rights they are granted, and how they combine in two European Higher Education Area HPS, England and Germany. The comparative analysis draws on the desk-based study of immigration and access to higher education policies and mechanisms for refugees in the two countries. The concept of assemblage is called upon to highlight how complex combinations of asylum, welfare and access to higher education policies lead to differential rights which create different spaces of opportunity for refugees with higher education aspirations. More generally, analysing how these rights intersect allows for a better understanding of inequalities in access to higher education. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle Hunger in Higher Education: Experiences and Correlates of Food Insecurity among Wisconsin Undergraduates from Low-Income Families
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 179; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100179
Received: 27 July 2018 / Revised: 13 September 2018 / Accepted: 25 September 2018 / Published: 28 September 2018
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Abstract
There is growing awareness that a substantial share of undergraduates are food insecure, potentially undermining investments in higher education and hindering upward social mobility. This mixed-methods paper uses survey and interview data from low-income students at 42 public colleges and universities in Wisconsin [...] Read more.
There is growing awareness that a substantial share of undergraduates are food insecure, potentially undermining investments in higher education and hindering upward social mobility. This mixed-methods paper uses survey and interview data from low-income students at 42 public colleges and universities in Wisconsin to illuminate the day-to-day experiences of food insecurity and examine how food security status varies across background characteristics. Results indicate that students who grew up in food insecure homes, self-identify as a racial/ethnic minority, live off-campus, and attend college in an urban area are significantly more likely to report the lowest level of food security, often associated with hunger. Students explain that challenges stemming from the interrelationship of lack of time and inadequate money are their biggest barriers to food security. Most rely on friends or family for support, but few students draw on the social safety net, in part due to eligibility restrictions. In recognition of the diversity of students’ experiences, we discuss the need for a multi-faceted response to promote food security and student success. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Stratification with Honors: A Case Study of the “High” Track within United States Higher Education
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 175; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100175
Received: 30 July 2018 / Revised: 23 September 2018 / Accepted: 25 September 2018 / Published: 27 September 2018
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Abstract
At present, U.S. postsecondary sorting is best evidenced by an increasingly stratified system of higher education. However, very little attention is paid to even deeper levels of stratification within colleges and universities where academic tracking and its consequences are manifest. Given this significant [...] Read more.
At present, U.S. postsecondary sorting is best evidenced by an increasingly stratified system of higher education. However, very little attention is paid to even deeper levels of stratification within colleges and universities where academic tracking and its consequences are manifest. Given this significant lack of attention to deepening levels of stratification within many of the most “accessible” postsecondary institutions in the U.S., the purpose of this article is threefold: (1) to introduce readers to the notion of academic tracking within the postsecondary sector, (2) to situate honors education within the U.S. postsecondary tracking structure, and (3) to demonstrate the depths of stratification within a system that is lauded as the contemporary architect of social mobility. Based upon qualitative data collected during the 2016–2017 academic year at one public 4-year “accessible” university, findings illustrate the persistence, structure, and depths of stratification as an unintended consequence of one university’s efforts to reconcile the competing goals of excellence and equity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle ‘It’s Scary and It’s Big, and There’s No Job Security’: Undergraduate Experiences of Career Planning and Stratification in an English Red Brick University
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(10), 173; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100173
Received: 31 July 2018 / Revised: 21 September 2018 / Accepted: 22 September 2018 / Published: 26 September 2018
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Abstract
There is a continuing trend within higher education policy to frame undergraduate study as ‘human capital investment’—a financial transaction whereby the employment returns of a degree are monetary. However, this distinctly neoliberal imaginary ignores well-established information asymmetries in choice, non-monetary drivers for education, [...] Read more.
There is a continuing trend within higher education policy to frame undergraduate study as ‘human capital investment’—a financial transaction whereby the employment returns of a degree are monetary. However, this distinctly neoliberal imaginary ignores well-established information asymmetries in choice, non-monetary drivers for education, as well as persistent inequalities in access, participation, and outcome. Non-linearity and disadvantage are a central feature of both career trajectory and graduate employment. This paper draws on the findings of a longitudinal, qualitative project that followed 40 undergraduate, home students over a period of four years in an English Red Brick University. Exploring the nature of career development over the whole student lifecycle and into employment, the paper examines how career strategies are experienced by lower-income students and their higher-income counterparts. It provides a typology of career planning and, in comparing the experiences of lower- and higher-income students, demonstrates some of the processes through which financial capacity and socio-economic background can impact on career planning and graduate outcomes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle Preparing Versus Persuading: Inequalities between Scottish State schools in University Application Guidance Practices
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(9), 169; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7090169
Received: 30 July 2018 / Revised: 11 September 2018 / Accepted: 17 September 2018 / Published: 19 September 2018
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Abstract
A university education is often regarded as a means for increasing social mobility, with attendance at a leading university seen as a pathway to an advantaged socio-economic status. However, inequalities are observable in attendance levels at leading UK universities, with children from less [...] Read more.
A university education is often regarded as a means for increasing social mobility, with attendance at a leading university seen as a pathway to an advantaged socio-economic status. However, inequalities are observable in attendance levels at leading UK universities, with children from less advantaged backgrounds less likely to attend the top universities (generally known as the Russell Group institutions). In this paper, we explore the different levels of assistance provided to state school children in preparing for their university applications. Guidance teachers and pupils at a range of Scottish state schools were interviewed. We find that inequalities exist in the cultivation of guidance provided by state schools, with high attainment schools focusing on preparing applicants to be desirable to leading universities, whilst low attainment schools focus on persuading their students that university is desirable. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Unequal Higher Education in the United States: Growing Participation and Shrinking Opportunities
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(9), 167; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7090167
Received: 25 July 2018 / Revised: 12 September 2018 / Accepted: 13 September 2018 / Published: 18 September 2018
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Abstract
This paper argues that rising institutional inequality is a component of individual-level inequality in the United States because U.S. higher education provides a diverse group of students with unequal access to different kinds of institutions. Using latent profile analysis, we classified all public [...] Read more.
This paper argues that rising institutional inequality is a component of individual-level inequality in the United States because U.S. higher education provides a diverse group of students with unequal access to different kinds of institutions. Using latent profile analysis, we classified all public and private nonprofit higher education institutions in the U.S. from 2005 to 2013 into seven categories. We held these categories stable over time and allowed institutions to move between them. “Good value” institutions were scarce and tended to limit access through selective admission. Only Subsidy Reliant institutions that were directly supported by government appropriations regularly provided good value seats to a racially diverse group of students. Yet the number of institutions in the Subsidy Reliant category declined markedly over time. The resulting system offered access to many students but provided limited opportunity to secure a good value seat. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Out of the Education Desert: How Limited Local College Options are Associated with Inequity in Postsecondary Opportunities
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(9), 165; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7090165
Received: 31 July 2018 / Revised: 12 September 2018 / Accepted: 12 September 2018 / Published: 15 September 2018
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Abstract
The United States has a stratified hierarchy of colleges and universities. The consequences of this stratification include large disparities in the returns to higher education between the levels of postsecondary institutions, and gaps by race and income in terms of where students enroll [...] Read more.
The United States has a stratified hierarchy of colleges and universities. The consequences of this stratification include large disparities in the returns to higher education between the levels of postsecondary institutions, and gaps by race and income in terms of where students enroll that, together, have the potential to reproduce longstanding social inequality. We study one potential cause associated with enrollment disparities, the uneven geographic distribution of colleges around the United States. Specifically, we examine the college application and enrollment decisions of students who live in education deserts—geographic areas where students either do not have access to a broad-access, public college option (access deserts), or where they do not have access to a college that is academically matched to their academic credentials (match deserts). We find that the students in access deserts are more likely to apply to and enroll in colleges farther away from home than the students who have more readily available college options. In contrast, students in match deserts are less likely to apply to and enroll in academically-matched institutions. We discuss the equity implications of these findings and make recommendations for policy and future research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Open AccessArticle Organisational Identity as a Barrier to Widening Access in Scottish Universities
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(9), 151; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7090151
Received: 29 July 2018 / Revised: 24 August 2018 / Accepted: 4 September 2018 / Published: 6 September 2018
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Abstract
Widening access policy has historically focused on tackling the socioeconomic barriers to university access faced by prospective students from under-represented groups, but increasingly policy makers are seeking to also address the barriers to wider access posed by undergraduate admissions policies. In this vein, [...] Read more.
Widening access policy has historically focused on tackling the socioeconomic barriers to university access faced by prospective students from under-represented groups, but increasingly policy makers are seeking to also address the barriers to wider access posed by undergraduate admissions policies. In this vein, the Scottish Government has recently called upon universities to set separate academic entry requirements for socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants which recognise that “the school attainment of disadvantaged learners often does not reflect their full potential” and which better reflect the minimum needed to succeed in higher education. In this paper, we draw on in-depth interviews with admissions personnel at eighteen Scottish universities to explore the scope for more progressive admissions policies of this kind in light of universities’ identities as organisations and in light of corresponding organisational strategies for position-taking in global and national higher education fields. We present a theoretical model and an empirical illustration of three hierarchically-ordered ideal types of organisational identity—globally competitive, nationally selective, and locally transformative—and show that the more dominant of these tend to constrain the development of more progressive admissions policies. This is because globally competitive and, to a lesser extent, nationally selective organisational identities are understood to require admission of the ‘brightest and best’, conceptualised as those with the highest levels of prior academic attainment who can be expected to succeed at university and beyond as a matter of course. We conclude that universities must recognise and redress the implicitly exclusionary nature of their organisational identities if genuine progress on widening access is to be made. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
Open AccessArticle What Meritocracy Means to its Winners: Admissions, Race, and Inequality at Elite Universities in The United States and Britain
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(8), 131; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7080131
Received: 21 June 2018 / Revised: 11 July 2018 / Accepted: 3 August 2018 / Published: 8 August 2018
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Abstract
How do winners of processes of meritocracy make sense of those processes, especially in the face of forceful public critiques of their unequal outcomes? In this paper I analyze the meaning-making with respect to merit in university admissions of White, native-born undergraduates attending [...] Read more.
How do winners of processes of meritocracy make sense of those processes, especially in the face of forceful public critiques of their unequal outcomes? In this paper I analyze the meaning-making with respect to merit in university admissions of White, native-born undergraduates attending elite American and British universities. I find that United States students support the “calibration” of evaluations of merit, and emphasize evaluations of applicants’ contributions to the “collective merit” of their university cohorts. British students espouse a universalist, individualist understanding of merit. While conceptions of merit differed across national contexts, students in both reproduced the notions of merit espoused by their universities. I conclude that in spite of a long history of student protest on college campuses, rather than engagement with symbolic politics on liberal-identified campuses, self-interest in status legitimation dominates student perspectives, ultimately reproducing understandings of merit that will reproduce inequality. The paper draws upon 98 one-on-one in-depth interviews with White, native-born undergraduates attending Harvard University, Brown University, and University of Oxford. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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