Jack, A. A. (2019). The privileged poor: How elite colleges are failing disadvantaged students. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Review by Juanita C. Cross, Academic Advising Center, Eastern Illinois University, [email protected]

As more first generation students enter our colleges and universities a natural inclination may be to treat these students as a homogenous group. “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students" by Anthony A. Jack makes the case that this is a mistake. Jack (2019) finds distinct differences when he reflects on his own first generation experience and those of other students at an elite college. He further examines these differences through student interviews and documents what he finds in this book. The Privileged Poor unfolds into three main parts: confidential student interviews, an interview synopsis, and a thoughtful conclusion with new research ideas.

The largest portion of this book includes insightful and thought provoking interviews from two classification of students: “The Privileged Poor” and “The Doubly Disadvantaged” within “Renowned College”, a pseudonym for an elite and very popular university. Both classifications are well explained and articulated. The documented conversations demonstrate that a students’ background and experiences make a huge difference in student’s success inside and outside the classroom. Some quick takeaways from these conversations are concrete examples of how institutions have a tendency to treat all students the same when policies often affect them differently. I found it extremely powerful to read students’ unedited, sometimes emotional reactions to school policies and procedures.

One specific example is knowledge of the “hidden curriculum” within the  higher education system. This “hidden curriculum” includes an introduction to faculty/staff as a partner in student’s success, introduction to using office hours, and being proactive. A student’s background and experience made the “Privileged Poor” better adept at asking for assistance. Advisors know that without actively seeking assistance some students may not be successful.  These interviews reflect the importance of the informational component of advisors’ positions (2017). Advisors must know institutional policies, procedures, rules, and even the unwritten ones (hidden curriculum) in order to assist students when needed.

Doubly disadvantaged students without knowledge of the “hidden curriculum” view going to office hours, asking for assistance, etc. as grade grubbing or kissing up.  This book does a good job challenging norms and reviewing those policies/procedures that those working in academia may take for granted. He examines three policies at length during the second part of the book as well as their effects for those in the two groups. Review of these policies demonstrate how an innocuous policy like closing dining halls during Spring break may be a hardship for those with no safe home life or means of transportation. One student quote included an observation that “Spring Break is the real Hunger Games, and the odds are never in poor students’ favor” (2019, p. 175).   Advisors who read this book will learn to view policies/procedures with the underlying question of does this help or hinder students, and if so which ones?  Inclusivity, a NACADA core value is front and center throughout this book (2017).  A necessary component to promote equity is consideration of a student’s background/experiences.

Advisors are in a unique position to see how these policies and procedures affect students differently. What may be an inconvenience to one student may be a catastrophe for another student. Students come to college with a different skill set depending on their background. This book is a reminder that not all students understand... "the most commonly used words, which are rarely defined or explained: syllabus, liberal arts, prerequisite, internship, fellowship, credit or the like” (2019, p. 190). Jack concludes that if students are unable to navigate the “hidden curriculum” in college they are also likely to have trouble learning the “hidden curriculum” of a new job or career after college.

Jack  does a good job of giving the reader an inside look at what students experience in a college setting. Although this is an interview-based book from students at an elite institution, its examples can be widely applied to other colleges and students. The Privileged Poor asks that all those involved in higher education understand the differences between first generation students to ensure they are feeling accepted on campus and comfortable enough to access student resources.This book has challenged the lens I use when reviewing presentations, documents, and even emails to make sure I am using inclusive language that all students can understand. This book is ideal for not only academic advisors but also anybody working with this student population in higher education.   


Jack, A. A. (2019). The privileged poor: How elite colleges are failing disadvantaged students. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx



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