Book by: Krista M. Soria
Review by: Rebecca L. Torstrick
Office of Completion and Student Success
In recent years, national policymakers have set an ambitious goal for the country. By 2020, they want the United States to again top the world for overall proportion of college graduates in the population. Reaching this college completion goal, however, will require broader access to a college education than the traditional population of students served. More “blue-collar scholars” are needed to attain the national goal, yet considerable research has shown that students from working-class backgrounds are significantly less likely to earn a college degree than their more privileged peers. How then to move the needle?
In this first volume for a new series for the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, Krista Soria provides a well-written and comprehensive look at the scholarship surrounding working-class student success in higher education. More importantly, however, she tackles the question of what can institutions of higher education do to improve success for these students. She draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and his concepts of social and cultural capital to demonstrate how the social system of the modern university reinforces inequality as it privileges middle- and upper-class cultural values, norms, and perspectives. For working-class students to succeed, institutions have to make class visible and begin the work to uncover and eradicate class bias in daily practices, both in and out of the classroom.
Soria details the structural barriers for working class students to even get to universities in a chapter that looks at factors like their precollege academic preparation, how they choose where to go, the admissions and financial aid policies and practices of the institutions, and the outcomes likely to be produced. It’s a deft summary of everything that can and does go wrong for these students. For advisors, this may not be new information but Soria pulls it all together into a well-documented “state of the union” summary upon which she builds in the following chapters.
The key chapters in the book are those that look at what happens to students in the classroom and what happens as they attempt to integrate on campus. Soria notes that the classroom can be a “site of symbolic violence” (p.30) for these students as they are exposed to cultural messages that devalue and degrade the cultural world from which they hail. While she does not explicitly say this here, Soria makes a compelling argument that these students face stereotype threat on campuses (Steele, 2010). She notes the need to make visible the hidden curriculum of the university for these students, as well as the need to question why working class values are not equally at home on campuses. She incorporates a number of useful suggestions for how faculty members could do this in their classrooms, many of which could also be applied by advisors to their advising interactions with working-class students. The chapter on campus life also provides a number of excellent suggestions for how to help working-class students realistically integrate on campus in ways that honor and accept who they are, instead of requiring them to become someone new. The final chapter serves as a grand summary for campus-wide reform.
This book should be required reading for everyone on campus.
Steele, C. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Welcoming Blue-Collar Scholars Into the Ivory Tower: Developing Class-Conscious Strategies for Student Success (2015). Book by Krista M. Soria. Review by Rebecca L. Torstrick. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center. 91 pp., $25.00, (Paperback), ISBN 978-1-889271-96-5