The Most Depressing Book I Have Ever Read

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88 Responses

  1. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    I think the crucial realization that students should gain in college and that most of them don’t is this:

    Don’t think of an exam or a project or an assignment or a task as you starting off with 100 points and gradually losing points as you make mistakes.

    Think of an exam or a project or an assignment or a task as you starting off with zero points. You must earn all the points you get. You can answer a question in a way that is totally correct without touching on an essential aspect of that question’s ideal answer. You can do an undergraduate thesis in most places (and even a master’s thesis in some places) by pure literature review without designing an experiment or performing any analysis. Will this make a good thesis? Probably not. Should your goal be not to lose any points? Maybe if you’re in high school.

    I teach mostly students who already have bachelors degree in a non-degree program, so everyone who is there wants to be there and there is no education to consume conspicuously, so I am very lucky in terms of the quality of individual it is my privilege to instruct. I can tell that some of them come from cultural backgrounds where they never learned the value of self-directed work, and that some of them are perhaps not the most naturally gifted students in the world. But all of them are there because they at some point in time they figured it out and they are now where want to be.

    I find far fewer of them asking me whether something is “mandatory” that the undergraduates I have taught. My answer to that question is always: nothing is “mandatory”. You don’t “have to do” anything. You don’t “have to” come to class, you don’t “have to” show up for the exam. You’re totally free to do whatever you want to do.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    God, I don’t say this often, but you should read more (yes, you’ve read more books than me this year, I promise — so feel free to laugh it off).
    For something thoroughly depressing and inspiring in equal proportions, check out:
    Nine Parts of Desire — The hidden World of Islamic Women
    …by Geraldine Brooks

    Nothing like reading a book that covers the spread of clitoridectomy to put things in perspective, eh?

    n.b: if folks want, I can review the book here.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      I meant depressing in a unbreakable cycle kind of way. Not in the worst thing to happen for the world kind of way.

      It seems like we are damned if you do and damned if you don’t and I am uneasy with the idea that being in a small town makes you almost destined to stay in a small town.

      I am also depressed and sadened by the fact that the Leavers seemed to become more anti-Semitic and homophobic based on their college experience.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        PA has a Governor’s School program, where they pull from all the Intermediate Units across the state. Folks didn’t seem homophobic or anti-Semitic — I went to the School for the Sciences, so it wasn’t like we were hard core partiers or anything, though we did have fun.

        It’s designed, at least in part, to help the smart kids from the boonies meet folks from other parts of the state. If nothing else, this develops ties that will teach some of the more rural what you need to do as you go to college. Best case is that more people stay in state because they find a lifepartner at one of these camps.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m wondering if the real culprit in this is the Greek/athletic/party scene in college. American media has presented college has being four years of a rollicking good time rather than academics since practically forever. Everybody knows that college is place you go to advance yourself but I imagine that the party image is very ingrained in lots of students heads. If you reduce the Greek/party scene and the light majors than you might get different results.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      What’s a light major these days?
      Library studies? Black Studies? Women’s Studies?Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        The lite majors in the book were things like Travel and Leisure studies, Event Planning, Sports Broadcasting, Hospitality Studies, etc.

        These were considered business lite majors because they did not require classes in finite mathematics and/or calculus. They also lacked foreign language requirements.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I find the foreign language lack a lot more distressing than the lack of calculus.
        And I majored in physics.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Light is always the proper spelling.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      The authors cover how seriously the Greek party scene is entrenched through a complicated sets of organizations at the local, state, and national level. The Frats and Sororities also own their own property. The university is hesitates to get rid of them because they provide student housing alternatives and the media image and help attract students who can pay full-freight. Wealthy alumni would probably revolt if too much action was taken against the Greek houses.

      I also think that the houses would just move off-campus if banned. When we were 17 and visited American University for an over night trip, my host took is group to his off-campus frat. We drunk beer, did bong hits, and played poker (they let me win!). This is exactly what he was not supposed to do.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I can think of worse things he could have done…
        (still, yes, that’s not giving a good impression.)Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        Truth be told, 17 year old me did have a lot of fun (it was the first time I did a bong hit)
        and they let me win at poker. I was still hoping to get into Vassar at the point (I was waitlisted).Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        I liked the fact that they let me win at poker more than the bong hit.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        Greek life wasn’t nearly so prevalent when I was an undergrad way back in the late 1970s. They existed but they were a relatively small, often mocked part of campus life. Now, they’re a much bigger deal.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Michelle, Greek life might have taken a serious hit during the 1960s because baby boomers, especially those attracted to the counter-culture, associated them with the sort of establishment types that brought us the Vietnam War. They might have recovered during the Reagan years.Report

      • Avatar Michelle Togut says:

        Lee–spot on. When I returned to UCSB in 1981 to get a master’s degree, it was as if the place had been overrun by an alien species sporting LaCoste and Ralph Lauren polo shirts. It was indeed the dawning of the Reagan era.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        On an alt history usenet group I read years ago, a poster made a rather convincing argument that the 1970s were basically an extension of the late 1960s socially and that even as late as 1979 there were still strong elements of the counter-culture in American politics. Than 1980 happened and everything changed fast. The war on drugs started under Nixon but didn’t get real serious till Reagan.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

        @michelle @leeesq

        It is worth noting that Animal House came out in 1978.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        And was set in the early 60s.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        From a foreign perspective, the concept of fraternities and sororities seems very strange. Mind you, chances are I’m thinking more of a stereotype than the reality of it.Report

    • Avatar notme says:


      I’m confused. It is the fault of the Geeks that the american media has presented college as one big party? Do you think the greeks have a legal cause of action against the media?Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I haven’t read the book, but choosing to study students living in a party dorm at a party school sounds to me like the sort of thing one might do if one were trying to produce research that shows that people from low-SES backgrounds can’t succeed in college.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and I didn’t have any problems like this. But I didn’t go to a party school or join a fraternity.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        Where did you go to school?

        I would like to see how the same study replicates at:

        1. A public ivy like UVA, William and Mary, Michigan, or Cal.

        2. An Ivy League University.

        3. A SLAC college without grad students

        4. An Engineering School like MIT

        5. An elite private school with a known party scene like Duke.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Cornell and CMU are famous for being grind schools, where everyone works hard, and everyone’s chronically depressed at how poorly they’re doing. [Yes, this goes from Design to Computer Science.]
        I don’t have the same impression out of MIT, Caltech, or most of the other Ivies. [this is Not to say that folks ain’t working their tuchuses off, but they are actually having fun at the same time.]Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        I know someone who went to Cal Tech for a few years and her descriptions made it sound like a grind school where no one slept or had fun.

        I know Cornell has a reputation for being the easiest Ivy to get into but the hardest to stay in and for a high-suicide rate but it was the one Ivy I applied to and I think the reputation is a bit exaggerated.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Caltech has a prank the freshmen day. I know someone who participated… It’s a wild and crazy event, with prizes for people who figure out the puzzles (they’re Hard!)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        A brother went to what I would consider a Public Ivy equivalent. But he did the fraternity stuff. It actually turned out to do him a lot of good in terms of sociability. He was never as far back as I was, but he was definitely a different person coming out than going in in a way that didn’t particularly happen for me. I sometimes wonder if I made a mistake by not joining a fraternity (though I certainly value the college friends I made without it).Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

        Duke probably has a similar dynamic, with more margin for error. You could probably collapse the socialites and the achievers into one category. The Wannabes probably comprise the largest category. Social success takes precedence over academic success.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I went to an Institute of Technology. Not one of the top two.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:


      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:


      • Avatar Mo says:

        I was in a fraternity at an Engineering School exactly like MIT*. There was very much a culture of work (very) hard, play (very) hard. My first two years the administration was very laissez faire, then a student died of alcohol poisoning and the hammer came down hard. There was a hard partying culture as a way to blow off steam because academically it was a grind and people had to adjust to no longer being the smartest kid in school. From what I have heard, MIT had a much better social scene.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I went to UW-Madison, a notorious party school. The party scene tended to not affect the Engineering campus, despite our facilities being right next to Camp Randall stadium & Frat Row. We had our own Greek houses & orgs that tended to sparsely interact with the rest of the Greek system.

        I’m pretty sure the reason for that is because there were no ‘lite’ engineering programs at Madison. You were up to your neck in work, or your eyeballs, or somewhere in-between. We would party, but only after major work/exams were completed.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:




        I thought MIT had a series of incidents as well from hazing deaths and student suicides.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        @saul-degraw There was one “hazing” death, but from what I had heard through unofficial channels* was that his behavior was more about showing off** at an initiation event that ended tragically. It’s possible that he was hazed into it, but people who knew him and were friends with him on the crew team also said that he was very drunk during orientation evening events. MIT always had a pretty high suicide rate, but there was a big spike after the crackdown that followed Krueger’s death, which some attribute to losing an avenue of blowing off steam. I will say that my house was respectful of those that chose not to drink.

        * This happened my sophomore year and I will note, I had no love for the fraternity that the guy was a member of and the channels I heard it from were not members of it
        ** Which is plausible because I saw (and participated in) behavior among college students that could have ended in tragedy that didn’t involve hazing, some of it in dormsReport

      • Avatar Kim says:

        MY school actually had someone’s dormmate call the police, because his friend thought the kid had committed suicide. Turns out the bloke had merely barricaded himself in his dorm room for 3 days straight, working on a project…Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, yeah, one guy being superdrunk at Pitt got himself stabbed… about eleven times [gang initiation nite is not the time to be convinced you can beat up a shrimp with a knife–moreso when he’s got friends]. Luckily, he was uproad from the hospital (w/ trauma center).Report

  5. Avatar j r says:

    I am curious why your analysis focuses so much on the socialites. It’s not clear to me that making the socialites worse off will make the other’s better off. I wonder if your focus on them has more to do with not liking them and what they represent. After all, how different are they from their liberal arts school equivalent?

    I could tell a similar tale about students from upper-middle class and wealthy families whose pcollege-educated parents pay lots of money to send them to private schools or live in districts with good public schools and spend even more money getting their kids involved in all sorts of charitable and arts-related extracurriculars that look good on college applications. Those kids go to a liberal arts college that has a reputation of catering to kids with an interest in non-commercial, non-STEM fields and they are more interested in gaining capital in that world than anything else. They major in the arts and humanities and then use their family and social connections to get entry level jobs in the arts/publishing/non-profit world. Those jobs pay very little and tend to be in expensive urban centers, but it’s fine because their parents are financing a good portion of their lifestyles.

    What’s the difference? It is equally as difficult for a kid from a working class background to infiltrate that world as it is to infiltrate the Big State socialite world and enter the arts-related career fields. And it’s even more difficult for a poor or working class kid to support herself on those salaries without parental support.

    Also, on this:

    A lot of people seem to think that government-backed loans are the cause or part of the cause for skyrocketing tuition. I am not sure dialing this back would reduce tuition.

    This is not a “seem to think” situation. This is basic economics. When you subsidize something, you distort the normal price finding capacity of the market. Demand increases, spots at schools get bid up and the new equilibrium price with the subsidy is higher than without the subsidy.

    There are two ways around this. One, the government can enter the market fully and act as monopoly or near monopoly suppler of the good in question and depress demand by rationing. This is what you have in many countries where higher education is free or very cheap, but admission is restricted to the highest performing students. The rest get tracked somewhere else. The other option is to end the subsidies and expose people to the full price of the good, which would bring down demand and prices with it.

    Much like our health care markets, our education markets are stuck somewhere between the two best solutions. And like our health care system, our education system produces some of the world’s finest outcomes at one end and some of its worst at the other end.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Making things worse for the socialistes definitely isn’t going to help the people struggling in college. What would help is identifying potenital strugglers and directing them to programs designed to help them rather than letting them go through alone before the first day of classes.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        a lot of smaller schools have bridge programs and other 1st gen oriented programs. large schools don’t need to work at it as much as there’s always more next year.Report

  6. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Maybe we need to bring back the teaching college.

    They still exist, I’m pretty sure. There are a number of colleges available for those who don’t want the big classes. The public ones are not particularly well-regarded, though, because academics so often prefer the bigger schools, desirable students flock there, and so on. The lack of well-regard of course cuts into how helpful a particular school will be. Not just in terms of what it will say on your resume (not even mainly that, in my opinion) but networking opportunities.

    I am not sure dialing [student loans] back would reduce tuition.

    Less than many advocates believe, but I’m pretty sure it would. At most colleges (that survive), anyway. The question there is less whether it would be effective in reducing costs, but whether that’s worth the other effects. I’m a little skeptical of that, actually. I do question the notion of college as a nigh-universal ideal, but I don’t particularly want the delineater to be family wealth.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      “I do question the notion of college as a nigh-universal ideal, but I don’t particularly want the delineater to be family wealth.”

      I think we are in the same boat here.Report

    • Avatar Badtux says:

      Go back to pre-Reagan, where poorer students could graduate from college on Pell Grants and part-time work. When I graduated the only student loans I had to supplement part-time work were so miniscule that they were paid off within a few years of getting my first real job. My Pell Grants paid 100% of tuition and textbooks. Not so much nowadays…Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        Not a bad place to go back to but how do you think we can get there?Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        but part-time work can be almost as dangerous to student success as the party scene.

        The issue I see “Paying for the Party” identify is this: It takes a certain degree of academic success to be successful post college, except for those students who have a social safety net. These students are taking academically unserious majors or getting bad grades in academically serious ones, and therefore have spent lots of money and effort on a college degree that’s basically worthless.

        If we’re asking students to work more than a token amount, they’re that work will impact their academic success or force them into academically undemanding majors without giving them the time to create social connections that might make those majors pay off.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        This was also covered by the authors. The Leavers also needed to work more than a trivial amount of hours and sometimes multiple jobs. They could not focus on their studies. Sometimes they had family back home to support. One woman was basically preventing her niece from starving to death. The other had parents who were in serious debt.Report

      • Avatar Badtux says:

        It depends on the degree of part time work, I suppose. And what kind of part time work. Working part time at the library for nine to twelve hours a week didn’t seem to affect my grades any. My computer habit, on the other hand, did. If it was a choice of studying for a Biology exam or writing a program to bypass security on Multics to access things in a way I wasn’t supposed to access them, guess which one won? But guess what. 30 years later I’m still doing what I love to do and getting paid major bucks for it. Many of my peers who graduated with a 4.0 and went to work for EDS or Baen or some other big name consulting firm got their jobs outsourced to Indian consulting firms and ended up in retail or otherwise doing things nowhere near what their GPA proposed. Ten years after college, your college GPA simply quits mattering anymore.

        How to get back there is of course the hard part. Public universities need to be public universities, like public high schools, free to attend for all who can make the grade. But how to do that in a climate where people have been indoctrinated by continuous right-wing propaganda for 34 years now that “government is the problem, not the solution”? That’s the biggest problem, not lack of money — the US is a bit down compared to its peak, but still has plenty of money to pay for a college education for every person who wants one. If it cared to do so. Which apparently it doesn’t. Getting back from today’s vicious “I got mine and f*** you” mentality to a kinder gentler nation willing to give a hand up to those who want to get ahead is probably something that isn’t going to happen in what remains of my lifetime. Sigh.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        My college job wasn’t too bad with regard to interfering with school work (campus IT Admin), but it did involve a lot of responsibility, and it was almost impossible to leave for an internship or co-op, so I missed that opportunity (being married in college also hurt those opportunities, since it was quite difficult to just pack up & leave for a while with a spouse & household).

        I did recover from it, just took time.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The book, and consequently the digest of the book, suggests a direct relationship between the students’ backgrounds and their performance in college and their post-collegiate careers. But I’m not sure that’s a complete picture.

    Socialites, as described, come from affluent backgrounds. Parents can subsidize Greek life and these students had families with connections that could get them jobs after they graduated. College was for them a primarily social environment where social connections were made; classes and education were at best secondary to the network formation.

    Achievers, on the other hand, were groomed for success by professional parents and seemingly demanding expectations were laid upon them. Good grades, education, learning, and high scores on tests were the emphasis from their involved parents, and consequently they went on (mostly) to professional careers like their parents.

    But aren’t these sets of parents demographically very similar to one another? Aren’t these students demographically similar to one another? The determinative issue seems to be the drive and quality of parental involvement both before and during college, rather than the kinds of backgrounds or even economic classes from which these students were drawn.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      I know genetics is Racist, but…Genetics!Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The incomes and careers of the socialite and achievers might be similar but the cultural values are probably slightly different. Achiever parents seem to place at least some emphasis on the academic nature of college while the socialite parents see it as a place for connections. This suggest two rather different attitudes towards school work. Achiever parents might be less able to help their kids through connections as well.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      I think they are very similar to each other but the slight differences are astronomical. It is like the differences between the 1 percent, the .1 percent, and the .01 percent.

      The achievers might come from the 1 percent. The socialites come from the .1 or .01 percent.

      The achievers generally grew up upper-middle class and had professional parents but the authors of the book said that the upper-middle class achievers generally understood money to be finite resource. They could go on spring break with their friends or they could spend a summer abroad in Italy. They couldn’t do both.

      The socialites could do both and more easily. They often came from generational wealth that built up and built up. They had parents who were CEOs and CFOs of Fortune 500 and similar companies or were heirs of great fortunes. One woman did have a CFO father but her grandparents still paid entirely for college for her and her numerous cousins and siblings.

      The achievers might have gone on nice European vacations but they would stay in hostels. The socialites were able to go on nice European vacations and take their friends along and stay in world-class hotels, etc.

      Now there is nothing wrong with an upper-middle class life. It is a really nice life but it is about being income wealthy over capital and real-estate wealthy. The achievers needed to major in the more serious subjects because they might have the aesthetic tastes to do even planning but they did not have the ability to live beyond their means after-college. The girl who went to dentistry school made it very clear that the 90,000 dollar starting salary would be what she lived on. The socialites had jobs that paid 30-60,000 dollars a year but lived liked they had 250,000 dollar salaries or more and were always treated out by young Investment Bankers. Their parents seemed to encourage dating investment bankers.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Yeah, socialites tend to be the 1%. Achievers are the top 20%.Report

  8. Avatar Michelle says:

    I’m happy to see that my alma mater is the #7 party school, but #2 in post-grad income. Good old UCSB.Report

  9. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    This book has the following messages.

    1. All humans are pretty bad at making smart rational, self-interested decisions, regardless of education level. We are apes after alo. More emotional and tribal than anything.

    2. The children of the rich don’t need to make such decisions to end up succesful in most cases. They are immune to any stupidity they might have.

    3. The children of the poor will fail hard if they make ordinarily human mistakes and will probably not succeed even if they make smart rational choices.

    4. There is a class of sub-bougeois in America who gain their children a degree of wealth by pressuring them into harsh competitions for a few hard to get professional spots, e.g. doctors and engineers. (Obviously, you won’t solve problems with equality or merit in the U.S. by pushing more parents and kids into this competition. You’ll just make it harder to be a doctor or engineer. To solve the problem, more proletarian jobs would have to pay like doctor or engineer.)

    5. College in the U.S. doesn’t change these things. That doesn’t mean college isn’t important. It doesn’t mean college in other countries isn’t a part of social equality and meritocracy or that it can’t be here, too.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

      I mean, “apparently” has these messages. i haven’t read it. bought it, though.


    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      (Obviously, you won’t solve problems with equality or merit in the U.S. by pushing more parents and kids into this competition. You’ll just make it harder to be a doctor or engineer. To solve the problem, more proletarian jobs would have to pay like doctor or engineer.)

      This is sort of high I view college more generally. With medicine and (a whole lot of) engineering, though, there is a much more significant issue: Most people can’t cut it. You can dumb college down enough so that everybody has a degree (yay!) but that’s harder to do – and the risks more apparent – in some college tracks than others.Report

  10. Avatar North says:

    I’m puzzled about the bit where you indicate you don’t think cutting back on studen loans will decrease tuition costs ND. Do you feel the constant hikes in university tuition are due to something beyond the University’s control?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Constant tuition hikes at state universities are at least because states no longer provide as many subisides as they did during the time when my parents went to college. For the other part, its because a class of people realized that university administration is a great way to get rich.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The fact that private universities are enjoying similar jumps makes me wonder if “subsidies” isn’t a handy scapegoat.

        I mean, if your control group is acting the same way as your variable group, it’s kinda young earthy to say that your variable group is somehow doing something novel here because of the variable you changed.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        I don’t think that is true. If you look at the decreases in state subsidies, do they perfectly match up to the increases in tuition? Also, if I’m correct the amount of public support to universities is not falling, it’s just not keeping pace with the increases in tuition. That means that we are not looking at one thing causing the other, but two different phenomena that working in the same direction. The decrease in public support is more responsible for student’s reliance on loans than on the increase in tuition. It’s really quite an ingenious scheme if you think about it. The government still gets to push more and more people into college, but instead of paying for it, they actually manage to make a buck of the loans while simultaneously giving the banks a steady income stream.

        Also, everything that I’ve seen on the subject implies that tuition increases are being driven by the increase in administrative costs (higher salaries for administrators, but also more administrators to keep up with an increasing body of rules and regulations) and an increase of non-educational services like nicer dorms and dining halls and gyms. This makes sense as kids are coming from homes with more bells and whistles, in which they have more space and a bigger expectation of privacy, so they are demanding the same things in college facilities.

        We hear a lot of talk about how college is so much more expensive than it was 30 or more years ago, but that is partly because the college experience is something quite different than what it was 30 years ago.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        the college experience is something quite different than what it was 30 years ago

        30 years ago, when I was in college sharing a dorm room with one other person, an alum who’d had that roo, about 30 years before stopped in, and told me he’d shared that room with two other people. Small as the room was, I goggled at the thought. Now an increasing numbet of students–never having shared a bedroom as houses get bigger and families get smaller–demand single rooms. In another 30 years, they may all demanding individual suites.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The rise of luxury dorms isn’t helping with tuition costs.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        UCs must be an exception. When I was at Berkeley, there were 2 of us in a 12×12 dorm room that I’m told now holds 3. My daughter’s first year at Davis was in a 3-person room smaller than that: a bunk bed, a single bed, three small desks, and room to shuffle sideways between them all.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        I think that’s a Berkeley thing specifically. The trends in college housing are pushing one way, but the trends in Bay Area housing are pushing another way and that second set of trends is winning.

        My own Alma Mater is undergoing some weird housing swings. Traditionally, Freshman and first-year transfer students have lived on-campus in traditional dorms, while others have lived off-campus. For a variety of reasons, there’s been a demand for on-campus housing for older students, so during my sophomore year, they opened up an apartment-style housing complex (four single bedrooms per apartment).

        Then there was a jump in freshman enrollment, and so the new on-campus housing complex was used to house freshman, and the sophomores and juniors moved back off-campus.

        Jump ahead a few years, and they’ve opened up an even bigger complex for upperclassmen. And what do you know? Due to unexpectedly high enrollment, it’s full of freshmen again. Though this change might be slightly more temporary.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Constant tuition hikes at state universities are at least because states no longer provide as many subisides as they did during the time when my parents went to college.

        I’d like to see statistics on this. My suspicion is that, except perhaps for a small pullback after the recession, total subsidies have been increasing more or less monotonically in real per-capita terms, and that subsidies as a percentage of tuition have fallen because of increased enrollment (subsidies being spread among more students) and costs increasing well in excess of inflation.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


      I think it might reduce tuition but not enough. Here is what my might happen.

      1. Universities will just go looking and competing more for people who can pay full-freight including international students. A local university recently had a scandal where an admissions officer had to resign because they were accepting rich foreign students with very questionable English language skills for the undergrads.

      2. Tuition might get cut but more by 20-30 percent maximum. This is good but still puts college out of reach for the middle classes and below.Report

  11. Avatar j r says:

    The more I think about this, the more fascinated I become with the idea of the socialites.

    Is this book all ethnography or is there accompanying empirical work? There’s nothing wrong with ethnography, but it does involve a bit of arbitrary taxonomy that allows the researcher to shape the narrative in a particular way.

    For instance the claim that the socialites are particularly focused on socializing seems very odd to me. It raises the obvious question: what 18 year old kid isn’t focused on socializing? That tends to be what adolescence is all about. It’s that period when you go from being your parents’ creation to an independent person. Even kids who are academically and intellectually focused are drawn to college, in part, because they harbor fantasies of finally socializing with people who are similarly academically and intellectually focused.

    Lots of kids headed to college look forward to sitting on a well-manicured lawn discussing literature with a passionate professor, sitting up all night talking about plays and movies, or geeking out in a lab with a bunch of othertech-oriented folks. Are there any kids fantasizing about sitting alone, pulling all-nighters in the campus library? The idea that you have these discrete sets of motivations that break down cleanly along these lines is highly suspect, but I’m interested to know more.Report

  12. Avatar notme says:

    “The book is depressing because there is seemingly no solution to these issues.”

    Why does there need to be an answer? Or does it even matter that college replicates the existing social structure for another generation? I guess I don’t understand because it seems that half of the time liberals complain that not enough people go to college and then here they complain that college maintains inequality. What is so bad about inequality anyway? Why do liberals seem to spend an inordinate amount of time yammering about inequality?Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Because it sucks for the people that get the short end due to a system that disadvantages them or holds them down.Report

      • Avatar notme says:

        Is there a social system invented by humans that doesn’t disadvantage some people? We were all told that communism was the perfect system as it was going to wipe out all inequality but that clearly didn’t happen, did it?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Maybe we should aim to make our system better. Perfect we aren’t going to achieve but better, yeah we can aim for that.

        I went to school in the US. I was never taught communism was going to solve all our problems. Did you grow up in the USSR?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        the greatest thing about Americans is that they don’t think Anything will solve everything. And they know how to bitch — and then get to tinkering with a solution.Report

    • Avatar Badtux says:

      Inequality as such is an inevitable result of differences in individual human potential. The problem with inequality is when it is not correlated to individual potential. At that point you are condemning resources that could provide significant contributions to the economy to instead have a marginal contribution to the economy. If you have someone with the brainpower of Albert Einstein born into the 4th Ward of Houston and he never graduates from college because of lack of societal support, you end up with the guy who could have come up with the conceptual framework for workable cold fusion instead selling used cars in Southwest Houston.

      In case you’re wondering whether this is a reasonable scenario, I taught everywhere from the inner city to affluent suburb. I noticed no difference in ability to learn for a representative sample of either population. The life outcomes on the other hand were significantly different, based not on human potential but, rather, based on where they were born and to whom they were born. That’s the kind of inequality that gets liberals hot under the collar, because we’re throwing away valuable resources for reasons that make no sense, in the end.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The trick, of course, is identifying that potential & then supporting, while pulling support for the entitled with less potential, all midst the screams of parents who are absolutely certain their child is the next Einstein & actually deserves more support to realize their full potential.Report

      • Avatar Badtux says:

        And of course our society hands the levers of power to the entitled because, well, they’re *entitled*, so you’re correct that it’s a hard problem to solve — in *our* society. Other societies have handled it better. Norway, for example, has more millionaires per capita than the United States, yet much lower levels of inequality. Why? Because their entitled believe the nation is stronger if outcomes are based on merit rather than entitlement, and anybody who insisted their child was a special little snowflake based on something other than hard achievement data would be shunned as an elitist and probably a neo-Nazi. There’s still inequality in Norway, there always will be in any society, but they managed to create a social climate where asking for special treatment for your child based solely on your own assessment that he is special due to his social status is not socially acceptable. Maybe that’s only doable in a smaller nation. But it’s doable, nevertheless.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        oh, boy. think a bit further.Think of the child born in Afghanistan.

        Now, understand that “playgrounds” are a lot easier to build in other countries.
        Geniuses are not born, they learn to be smart — and sometimes they’re pushed.

        There’s never enough time in this world, but I pray that there’ll be time enough for that.

        There’s certainly organizations willing to grab up the idle geniuses and use them … for good, mostly.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        any guy who wasn’t born rich isn’t an entitled asshole. Or at least most of them aren’t. Folks like Soros (and brighter people who don’t have their name over everything under the sun) are busy pushing for a more equal country.

        The feudalists survive, but they dwindle in strength. Worse, though, they know it.
        The Kochs and other likeminded folks are a danger to all we hold dear (or maybe that’s just me?).Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Why? Because their entitled believe the nation is stronger if outcomes are based on merit rather than entitlement, and anybody who insisted their child was a special little snowflake based on something other than hard achievement data would be shunned as an elitist and probably a neo-Nazi.

        It is a neat little rhetorical that you’ve done by compressing all the various cultural, economic and political differences between Norway and other countries into a simple decision that they’e consciously made. Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that Norway has less inequality just because they want it more than we do?

        It is ironic, because you are arguing against the idea that intra-societal differences in wealth and education and other outcomes aren’t about individual decisions, but then you turn right around and argue that Norway’s superiority is the result of individual decisions. Which is it?Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        PS – Norway does not, in fact, have more millionaires per capita than the United States. What Norway has is a very big sovereign wealth fund thanks to their North Sea oil reserves.Report