Book by Jenny M. Stuber
Review by: Krista M. Soria
Office of Institutional Research
University of Minnesota

Social class matters in higher education; from influencing a students’ decision whether to attend college and where to attend college—in addition to affecting students’ success in graduating from—social class is too important to be overlooked in higher education. Inside the College Gates: How Class and Culture Matter in Higher Education contributes to a relatively sparse area of scholarship related to how social class influences students’ experiences in college, as most of the existing literature focuses on students’ entrance and exit without spending time examining whether students from different social classes experience campus life in unique ways. 

Stuber’s goals in writing this book were to explore how social class influences the ways in which students navigate the college environment—especially the environment outside the classroom—and to examine how students’ experiences in turn shape their social class views. Stuber conducted interviews of 61 students (approximately half identified as upper-middle-class and half identified as working-class) who attended either a selective liberal arts college or a public flagship university; the unique multi-institutional perspective is a strength in her qualitative research approach.

After describing theoretical considerations for social class, methodology, and her research approach in chapter one, chapter two begins just as students begin college: with new student orientation. The experiences of students (gleaned from Stuber’s interviews) are thoughtfully woven together with her analysis, creating a nice flow between the students’ actual words and the researcher’s conception of their experiences. Chapter three (“At the Activities Fair…”) provides a valuable contribution to social class scholarship, as Stuber links student involvement with the cultivation of social and cultural capital. Finding that upper-middle-class students had higher rates of extracurricular involvement as compared to their working-class peers, Stuber’s analysis corroborates other research conducted by scholars while at the same time shedding new light into the distant corners not explored in prior quantitative research. Advisors who read this section will likely reflect upon the ways in which students from different social class backgrounds participate in student activities on their own campuses as well.

Chapter four discusses how organizations institutionalize opportunities to acquire social and cultural capital through student programming for first-generation students, financial aid or work opportunities, and mentoring programs. Stuber warns about the possibility that such programs may isolate or stigmatize students but shares how deftly the liberal arts college in her study marketed these opportunities so as to downplay potentially stigmatizing effects. This chapter is especially relevant for academic advisors, who may find it useful to review institutional policies that may enhance engagement opportunities for students from lower classes or serve as barriers for these students to acquire the social and cultural capital.

The next two chapters provide insights into the social class worldviews of middle-upper-class students and working-class students. The book ends with “Lessons Learned,” where Stuber concludes by offering practical suggestions that can easily be undertaken by advisors wishing to enhance the involvement of lower-working-class students; for example, sharing information for scholarships through email can enhance the visibility of scholarships and downgrade the possibility that students will only learn about scholarships by chance. A limitation also acknowledged by the author is that some of the recommendations are drawn from the analyses of only a handful of students; therefore, academic advisors may wish to examine their own student populations to determine what will work to enhance their acquisition of social/cultural capital through involvement and engagement.

Inside the College Gates: How Class and Culture Matter in Higher Education. (2011). Book by Jenny M. Stuber. Review by Krista Soria. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. 201 pp., ISBN # 978-0-7391-4898-3

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