The college experience can be quite different for students depending on their class backgrounds. That’s what Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton found in a five-year, in-depth, longitudinal study of women who started out living on the same floor in a “party dorm” at a public flagship they call “Midwest University.” Ms. Armstrong, an associate professor of sociology and organizational studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Ms. Hamilton, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, spoke with The Chronicle about their new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, to be released this month by Harvard University Press. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Q. Many people in higher education cherish the belief that college provides opportunity to students from less-advantaged families, but some of your findings poke holes in that idea. Tell us about the experience of the less-affluent students you followed.
L.H. One of the more depressing things we saw was by the end of the entire study not a single one of the working-class women we followed managed to graduate from Midwest University. A number of them left for other institutions that were less prestigious. Ironically, that move ended up being a good decision. The outcomes according to class were very stark. <Read the rest of the interview.>