Paying for the Party

by Harry on March 23, 2014

I’m currently running a reading group with a group of 7 seniors, all women, whom I’ve known, and have known each other, since the beginning of their freshman year. They have diverse majors (only one is a philosophy major — others include elementary education, human development and family studies, psychology…) and pretty diverse experiences, and my idea was to read a bunch of books about undergraduate life on the pretty much entirely selfish grounds that they might be able to interpret the books better than I can alone (I went to a college in London, never lived in a dorm, and had, generally, a very different experience). We’ve read Michael Moffatt’s classic Coming of Age in New Jersey, and Rebekkah Nathan’s My Freshman Year so far, and are now on to Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, recommended to me by a sociologist who is, I think, friends with the authors. Paying for the Party is just fantastic.

The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated — they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.

The Greek system comes in for particular criticism, perhaps unsurprisingly, and the authors details practices that are, even to the jaded, mildly disturbing. It is not an uplifting book. But it is really essential reading if you want to understand the culture of a large public university well.

My students include one sorority member, and I was a little uneasy reading it, worried she might be defensive. When asked by a peer about the representation of sororities, she took in a deep breath and said “well, to be honest, its pretty much exactly like that”. Though she added that the school in question (they had worked out which it is, its not hard) is has an unusually prominent Greek scene.

My students are particularly keen that administrators and professors read the book. Everyone else I have forced to read it (a good number) have been fascinated, and find it extremely enlightening. A typical reaction has been “I wish I had seen this in my first year of college, I’d have understood the institution and how to navigate it so much better”. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

But two other recommendations might be more compelling than mine. These are recent emails from students, frustrated that because of spring break we shall not be having our second discussion of the book for a while:

This book makes me so angry and I’m so glad that you are having us read it! I feel like more university faculty and administrators need to read it to start to understand what we’re going through. As I told you, I’m embarrassed that I identify with the lower class groups and how they describe my future as being so dismal. Obviously it’s never been easy, but it makes me worry about my future, more than I already had because now class status is floating through my head. Personally, I don’t care about what classes people belong to, except in this context because there is so much inequality……..

I also have a question about the admission process and I don’t know if you’ll know the answer. Do you know if when you apply to UW that you state your perceived class background or family income? I know when I applied that there was a question about first generation college students, but that’s different. I feel like with the first generation background they’re creating some sort of affirmative action for us, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily good given the university doesn’t have enough time for us.

One more also, they comment on how many women transferred to more regional, closer to home, colleges. This was the first time that I seriously kind of regret staying here. Don’t get me wrong, I love this city and everyone I’ve meet and all of the opportunities I’ve been given, but as I’ve talked with you about before, I think I should’ve made a bigger effort to transfer to a smaller university. It’s just sad to think that in my attempt to get a better education (or so I thought) at an infamous institution, I may have set myself up to fail.

Just some thoughts and since we aren’t meeting until the end of the month I needed to get them out!


Yes,I agree it’s almost hard to read (although I really like it) because it’s revealing this huge problem, which I’m embarrassed to have never really realized
before even though now that I’m reading this book the examples are so obvious.
I can basically match people in the book to people I know. But anyways I’m struggling
to come up with ways that would feasibly help decrease the ‘pathway’ or at least make
it less of a determining factor of success- we should talk about that when we discuss the book
after break.


I’m just on the last chapter of Paying for the Party (hoping to finish it before I leave for spring break) You were right about the little uplifting part at the end (I’m assuming you mean the story about Monica [actually, it’s not Monica — she emailed me when she found the actually somehwat uplifting part at the very end]) and not everyone desiring the upper-middle class lifestyle. I was sort of questioning this throughout the story. I think the authors made a powerful point about class and the reproduction of privilege. However while reading it I was curious about the students long-term happiness, where are they now? People like Emma (who married Joe in the army) were only discussed for their downward trajectory throughout the story but I wonder how she’s doing now compared to some of the other girls. I guess I’m just curious about the happiness factor, I know money can influence happiness up to a point, but at some point I think having too much money can also be detrimental. Are the girls they interviewed who benefited from the primed to party lifestyle, currently happy? Are the people who experienced downward mobility happy?

Overall its clear there’s a big problem with how the universities are set up and a lot of factors contributing to/reinforcing that problem.

I defy anyone who has spent a lot of time at a large public flagship not to learn a lot from Paying for the Party.



Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.23.14 at 8:52 pm

I haven’t read the book, which sounds very interesting, especially since I’m now at the university it’s about.

Two things to think about. One is that the major alternative mode of college management of social life, prominent at rich institutions both SLACs and R1s, involves (a) basically 100% on-campus living, (b) official oversight of widespread violation of local drug and alchohol laws, and (c) substantially higher academic standards. This is what you see at Swarthmore or Harvard, for example. It’s not clear to me that this model is compatible with either the scale of public flagship universities, or their governance by state legislatures. It certainly lessens the problems described here, but it doesn’t, for example, eliminate excessive partying or sexual assault (see all the stories about Dartmouth, for example).

The second point is that in some ways, these problems all stem from the decision as of the 70s to treat college students much more like adults with the demise of in loco parentis. I think this points both to the a real tension here (do your students want the reduction in their autonomy that this would entail? That’s a real question, btw.) and to some reasons why fixing this might be problematic. Do you think that giving administrators more power to shape students choices would be used to empower students, or to require things that we’d be even more unhappy about. Certainly in loco parentis was very problematic, and mostly died because the students worked to kill it.


oldster 03.23.14 at 9:11 pm

Thanks for this. Just sent links to some of the administrators at the LPF at which I used to teach.

It’s also a reminder that the social-engineering that universities do in their admissions process is frequently rendered ineffectual by the entrenched discrimination in hiring.


LFC 03.23.14 at 9:24 pm

The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates … a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking …); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries… ; and assigning students to dorms based on choice….

So the “party pathway” works “reasonably well” for certain affluent students b.c they get degrees and jobs; but it also does not work reasonably well for them inasmuch as they spend an inordinate amt of time drinking and partying, take easy courses, and thus presumably don’t get much out of their four years in the way of education (however defined), except perhaps learning how to hold liquor and navigate social scenes (which cd admittedly be useful skills, but still…). So, looked at from a certain vantage point, the ‘party pathway’ doesn’t work for well for anyone; it just works even worse for the non-affluent who get caught up in it. The OP doesn’t really address the issue of how to change the situation, though maybe the book does.


oldster 03.23.14 at 10:29 pm

It speaks very well for you, LFC, that you think the frat boys have been short-changed. They generally don’t feel that way themselves.

The satisfied pig seldom thinks he would have been better off reading about Socrates, or Mill either, and his ignorance of the alternatives only solidifies his satisfaction.


Harry 03.23.14 at 10:40 pm

I deliberately didn’t say anything about how to change the situation bec I thought readers might have something to say. The book says a few things, and my group plans a discussion specifically about that, which I thought would make for a subsequent post (I’ve also planned a discussion with a small group of grad students in 10 days or so, which one of the authors will attend, so that’ll be interesting).

Point taken LFC. The point is just that the current situation exposes the less advantaged students to more serious risks than the more advantaged students. The more advantaged your situation the more second chances you have, and the more human capital is available and inclined to repair whatever damage gets done. I suppose that’s a reasonably good definition of advantage now I think of it. Anyway, no, I definitely wasn’t meaning to imply that this is a great situation for the successful partiers!


Main Street Muse 03.23.14 at 11:05 pm

I want to read this book. But I’ve got some questions. Is the party train wreck really just the fault of the schools? I teach at a “party school” right now. I have students who’ve been coddled from a young age to believe that showing up deserves a big medal. They can’t fathom the catastrophe of a “C” grade. I’ve had others who ask how they can “get off the 85 train” – expressing their frustration that they’ve not been gifted an “A” grade. One freshman wondered why her paper didn’t get a 100 for the grade, instead of the 95 she earned. I also have students who are in college specifically to party – any attempt to remind them otherwise is not welcome. In my courses, I teach affluent students, financially stretched students and first generation college students.

I don’t really know why college age students feel compelled to drink themselves into oblivion, but F. Scott Fitzgerald – who got kicked out of Princeton for not focusing on his studies – wrote about this nearly 100 years ago.

Why does this book only focus on women? Are they the only ones “paying for the party”? Seems odd. What happens to the non-affluent who are not swept up in this party train? Can they succeed? Or is the party train unavoidable? Are students not responsible for their own behavior? Why is it so easy to fall into a party trap and think all studying is foolish? If one DOES study, yet comes from the lower economic tiers, is there no hope of economic advancement now? Does the book have insights into those issues? Or are there none from the lower economic tiers who do well even with a college degree?

[When in college, many years ago, I went to a small, private, recently co-educated college in the East Coast – the admission of women was not welcomed by some faculty – the frats dominated the social scene – drinking dominated all social activity. We would study until 11pm and then party until whenever. My friends and I were public HS grads in a prep school paradise – some of us on loans, student aid. We seemed to survive – to have careers, families, etc. Perhaps that’s harder now.]

I am eager to read this book. But still – I wonder at what point does the family/student bear some responsibility for student behaviors?


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.23.14 at 11:14 pm

Here are a few ideas on changing the situation. Most are unlikely in the current environment. :)

1. Banning fraternities/sororities. One only needs to read the recent long article in the Atlantic, or the articles about Dartmouth, to see that they are a malign force. This is basically impossible.

2. Treating alcohol abuse on campus (and elsewhere, honestly) like a major public health problem, akin to heroin use. This would be hard to do without actually banning it.

3. End big-time college sports, including all athletic scholarships.

4. Stop treating crimes committed on campus (drug use, sexual assault, underage drinking, violence, property damage) as matters for the college to handle, and instead treat them like crimes they way they would be if the perpetrators were not enrolled in college.

This would be a pretty whole-sale restructuring of college life at a place like IU.


Main Street Muse 03.23.14 at 11:20 pm

To STH @7 – you are at IU? There is a great film that showcases the economic divide in Bloomington – Breaking Away – a 1979 film (with a very young Dennis Quaid). You’ve likely seen it, but if not, it’s a wonderful film about townies vs frat boys.


Ronan(rf) 03.23.14 at 11:32 pm

To weigh in limitedly, and from a position of great ignorance, I do wonder how the mechanisms of this work. How the partying *specifically* harms outcomes.
Is it the toll that comes from drinking and partying excessively (the hangovers, missed assignments, overslept classes etc) that starts eating into their grades ? Or is it more ‘the company they keep’ (ie the group they hang around in are more likely to take weaker courses, skive off etc)
I’m not sure how the authors approached the study, but was there a realistic counterfactual whereby the women from working class backgrounds did substantially ‘better’ (not the word I’d use but .. ) minus the partying ? Or is this still a story of elite social networks, entrenched inequality etc ?

This might be something specific to US college drinking culture, (or the university system in general) but I’m not sure how the partying itself could turn out to be *the main cause* of post college social immobility in anything but a few cases ?


The Temporary Name 03.23.14 at 11:41 pm

This might be something specific to US college drinking culture, (or the university system in general)

The idea that you go “away” to college helps, as you’re out from under supervision in an alien environment. It’s convention morality.


Tabasco 03.23.14 at 11:41 pm

The premise that college students are inevitably and, in some sense, involuntarily swept up in the party scene seems dubious. College students are intelligent adults who are capable of making grown-up decisions. Unfortunately sometimes these decisions are bad ones.

Of course the fact that the frat boys can party for four years, graduate with a C average, and still get good jobs thanks to the parents’ connections is an outrage, but that is the class system for you, and there are bigger outrages than that, such as what happens to working class people who don’t even get to go to college, much less a flagship state U.

Finally, a question: why do these Greek fraternities/sororities on college campuses have so much power? Are they separate legal entities, financially independent of the universities, like the Oxbridge colleges?


oldster 03.23.14 at 11:44 pm

“College students are intelligent adults who are capable of making grown-up decisions.”

So you’ve never actually worked in higher education?


Kevin 03.23.14 at 11:52 pm

Tabasco, no one said anything was involuntarily anything. The point made was that universities facilitate bad things. Even intelligent adults can do bad things under bad incentive schemes, especially when the immediate costs are low and the immediate benefits high.


Tabasco 03.23.14 at 11:52 pm


I know what college students can be like, but society deems them mature enough to vote, sign contracts, join the armed forces and make all sorts of other important decisions. Infantilizing them is not the solution to this problem.


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.23.14 at 11:55 pm

MSM: Yes, I’m at IU, and yes, I’ve seen Breaking Away, which is great. Growing up in a very different college town, Lewiston Maine, I’ve seen lots of town gown relations, mostly from the gown side, since my parents were professors.


Tabasco 03.23.14 at 11:57 pm

“universities facilitate bad things”.

More accurately, universities facilitate behavior (partying and drinking) which if undertaken excessively by consenting adults leads to bad outcomes.

Universities are not high schools for 18-21 year olds.


Donald A. Coffin 03.23.14 at 11:57 pm

At my age, I read this: “a group of 7 seniors…” And immediately think of a group of retirees for a run…


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.24.14 at 12:02 am

Tabasco, fraternities are separate organizations, but not like Oxbridge colleges. They have no formal affiliation with the university, typically own a large building which provides housing to the members, and are part of a larger national organization for that particular fraternity. Incidentally, the housing bit is quite important, since universities like the ones we’re talking about never have enough housing for all the students, and fraternities and sororities make up a lot of the difference.


Donald A. Coffin 03.24.14 at 12:03 am

Other than that, it sounds a lot like the SLAC I attended in the 1960s. Which suggests that way, way too little has changed since then.


Tabasco 03.24.14 at 12:10 am


so the universities have no control at all over the fraternities/sororities? If something bad happens at one of these places the university has no legal responsibility?


bianca steele 03.24.14 at 12:22 am

I wonder how these books would compare with something like Walter Kirn’s Lost in the Meritocracy, and how these academics’ conclusions would compare with his. (I’ve read excerpts from Kirn’s book but not the whole thing.) He certainly would agree with the suggestion that it’s better to go to a less well regarded local school than to reach for a much better reputation farther from one’s reach. Or with fictional accounts, especially those written by recent graduates.

And I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’d guess those even a little older than me would be surprised by the changes caused when the drinking age was raised to 21. The transition, with the sudden shift in expectation and reality, was slightly painful, and definitely strengthened the influence of the fraternities (there were no sororities yet). It simply became impossible for anyone except a fraternity to have a party, and even frat parties were frequently “invitation only,” which allowed them to follow different rules. The OP suggests we’ve shifted from “it’s absurd this would affect social life that much, can’t people have a good time without alcohol?” to “it’s a shame poor kids can’t drink without consequences and maybe they shouldn’t participate in campus social life if they want to prepare for an adult career.”

Coincidentally, earlier today my husband and I were discussing private school for our daughter, which we aren’t considering but which was brought up in conversation by another person, and whether “making contacts” was a reasonable-to-expect benefit. The OP, I think, suggests not. (Did either of us make contacts, at an Ivy and a top-5o research univ., respectively? Not really, though he made friends with fellow college sports fans from different backgrounds, some local to the area where we eventually lived and some near where he grew up, which affected our social life for the better.)


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.24.14 at 12:31 am

Tabasco, the situation is more complicated than either a simple yes or no. The Atlantic article here: will give you a better understanding of the context.


Anderson 03.24.14 at 12:43 am

“College students are intelligent adults who are capable of making grown-up decisions

Wrong and wrong. And wrong.


LFC 03.24.14 at 1:07 am

On another point raised in the OP: the authors note that one of the ‘facilitating’ factors is assigning students to dorms based on choice (that’s not the case everywhere, of course, but apparently is the case at the school they’re writing about [I’m not sure exactly how Sam T-H knows it’s his institution but I’ll take his word for it]). Yet the choice process does not create completely homogeneous dorms, because the OP refers to “the non-party women on the party floor” who “feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the party scene.”

So maybe one partial ‘solution’ is to try to create genuinely homogeneous zones, where everyone interested in excessive partying etc is in a few buildings and everyone else lives somewhere else. It’s not a solution in any real sense, but it would ease the social pressure on ‘non-partiers’.

I admit this is perhaps a somewhat lame suggestion, but for various reasons I’m not in a position to come up with a list of good, feasible proposals.


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.24.14 at 1:13 am

LFC, this NYTimes article discusses how you can tell that it’s IU:

As for your suggestion: (a) it’s in some ways accomplished by the existence of frat houses, (b) it’s hard because people genuinely have friends who have different social lives, (c) the enormous scale of many dorms, like the ones I can see out my window, work against this, and (d) influence is probably most significant among first year students, for whom this plan can’t really work.


LFC 03.24.14 at 1:21 am


“College students are intelligent adults who are capable of making grown-up decisions” Wrong and wrong. And wrong.

College students, whether or not they are “grown up,” should be treated, basically, as
adults in terms of rights (and responsibilities), but should be given guidance and an environment that does not facilitate or create incentives for bad decisions.

Infantilization in the form of a return of in loco parentis is not the answer. At the high school level, where I believe the doctrine of in loco parentis still applies as a a legal matter, it’s often been used as nothing more than an excuse to say that students have fewer constitutional rights than older people and that those rights they do have can be ignored. The unfortunate US Sup Ct decision Tinker v Des Moines Sch Dist (1969) held, in effect, that school authorities can violate constitutional rights (eg to free speech) to prevent ‘substantial disruption,’ which has proved to be, I believe, a pretty rubbery standard, allowing high school administrators a lot of latitude to do whatever they want. (Sorry, kind of OT.)


LFC 03.24.14 at 1:22 am

Sam T-H @25
Thanks for the link (and reply).


Matt 03.24.14 at 1:41 am

Which are the party majors? I don’t really like the idea of telling working class kids that they’d better stick to the “sensible professional majors.” Where do Art history, Latin American studies, fine arts, philosophy fit in?


Main Street Muse 03.24.14 at 1:49 am

From OP: “The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds.”

How is partying the reason for the inequality? Sounds like the problem is the existing inequality we have today – those who arrive with great connections don’t have to go to school to learn anything. If rich kids party at college instead of getting an education, but still do well due to connections that land them jobs, sounds like it’s connections, not education, that matters in today’s market. Unclear how changing university party rules will help those without connections.

[My alma mater, a small, liberal arts private college, is battling the fraternity/sorority issue and losing. Alums are withdrawing financial support, outraged that their social organizations would be hindered/limited in any way by the college that provided them their education.]


Bloix 03.24.14 at 2:10 am

I haven’t read his book – on your recommendation, I intend to – but I did read My Freshman Year, which was about a more working-class – first-generation to go to college sort of school, and it was enlightening and depressing. What did your reading group make of it?


Abbe Faria 03.24.14 at 2:33 am

Matt @28. “Which are the party majors?”

I’ve found them naming names. Interior design, fashion merchandising, sport broadcasting, a major called “tourism, hospitality and event planning” and communications are singled out as the soft majors. This is compared to “practical majors like teaching or nursing that produced real jobs straight out of college”.

Where do Art history, Latin American studies, fine arts, philosophy fit in? Well, they don’t. To be fair though, while the crowd here view degrees in fashion, media, design and the like with total contempt, and only view professional degrees in teaching, nursing and accountancy with marginally less contempt, the arts, literature and philosophy have a lot more in common with the first group in terms of career patterns.

It is very interesting that the sociologists criticise people using a fashion degree and connections to get a job in leisure industries. It isn’t as if degrees in art, english, philosophy, law etc aren’t notoriously variable in returns depending on whether connections can be used to lever you into jobs in galleries, journalism, law, etc. I suppose there are some subjects you can pick on, and some you can’t.


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.24.14 at 2:35 am

Matt, the “party majors” are usually things like business, communications, or physical education, although I can’t speak to the particulars for any specific institution.


Main Street Muse 03.24.14 at 2:49 am

What is the agenda of this book? Just curious. Please note that the Deseret review of this book (link provided by Abe Faria @ 31) has this quote:

“‘These schools lure in lots of kids who are not that interested in college and offer lots of weak majors that appeal to these kids,” said George Leef, a fellow at the North Carolina-based Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. ‘But then what? Lots of them end up working at Starbucks or Enterprise Rent a Car.’ He notes that Enterprise prides itself on hiring college graduates to do something that a well-trained high school graduate could do, and doesn’t pay them much better, providing a ready if dispiriting outlet for graduates in soft majors and low GPAs.'”

The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy is funded by North Carolina’s current budget director, Art Pope – who inherited wealth and who loathes public education. As a key policy maker, he’s doing what he can to dismantle the UNC-system. Curious that the Deseret reporter sought out a Pope-funded source for this article.


Harry 03.24.14 at 3:09 am

Abbe Faria — just writing about philosophy, which is the discipline I am in, I would (and do, frequently) advise anyone considering majoring in it to double major with a more practical major. I don’t know enough about the other majors you mention, but I think I’d probably advise the same (not law though, I’d just advise them not to do it, but that’s a whole other topic). But the main point is that someone taking a philosophy, or english, major, knows what the deal is, because someone says “you’re never going to get a job with that”. The majors they criticize are presented, and turned to, as being a pathway to a career.

MSM — the thing is that the students they are talking about ARE interested in college, mainly (that is, the lower-income, less advantaged, students). Many express regret at having shifted from one track to another, and thus having lost time or, in some cases, even the ability to shift back on to the other track. I haven’t read the review (I will), but the quote suggests the reviewer has an agenda which isn’t the authors’.

I’ll report on My Freshman Year later — I loved it, and was fascinated by their reaction to it (this has happened a number of times — passages which I interpret as criticizing the institution they often interpret as criticizing the students).


bianca steele 03.24.14 at 3:35 am

Harry, you say, The majors they criticize are presented, and turned to, as being a pathway to a career. It’s not as if hospitality management science is a growing field of academic research, which should be pursued only by undergraduates hoping to write a Ph.D. dissertation on how to prevent guests stealing towels, and then teach for the rest of their life. If it doesn’t lead to careers, really, what is the university doing teaching it? If it’s just a way for hotel owners to get their kids fake credentials without doing a lot of work, why is the university providing them this service? (I daresay it also flatters the university’s idea that all knowledge is its province, if in this case it weren’t so ridiculous.) But maybe the book explains this.


bianca steele 03.24.14 at 3:38 am

I might say from the OP itself (along with preview feature), I got the idea that the point was that they were being pushed from solid professional majors to majors that were less career-oriented, exactly, and more “feminine,” more “classy,” less getting their hands dirty. The kinds of majors rich people’s kids might aspire to (in a world where connections matter and credentials don’t).


nick s 03.24.14 at 4:24 am

Treating alcohol abuse on campus (and elsewhere, honestly) like a major public health problem, akin to heroin use.

The alternative and admittedly unlikely hypothetical would be to campaign for a reduction of the drinking age to 18, have supervised on-campus facilities and relatively strict policies regarding off-campus drinking. British universities are not exactly temples of sobriety, but the large metropolitan institutions have similar student numbers to large American public universities and don’t have the same horror stories associated with the Greek system. You certainly don’t have people falling out of windows in Leeds and Edinburgh every weekend.


Colin 03.24.14 at 4:54 am

LFC: Perhaps the skills involved in sororities, organising parties and being one of the ‘popular kids’ are exactly the kind of skills that are needed by a member of the hereditary elite in adulthood, so the rich sorority girls are receiving excellent training for their future careers. The real job of a member of this group is to maintain their social status and influence so that their children can be installed in a favourable position; any pretence of running a business, practising law or whatever is just a means to that end, and shouldn’t distract from the real work of being a successful politician/courtier/socialite.


Meredith 03.24.14 at 6:12 am

Well, I am at last on “break.” And getting old enough to roll my trousers. And I was just going through some old family stuff and thinking, gee, Belle would understand this shit.

And also thinking about my wondrous here and now student youngins whose papers on the Iliad I long to read, and dread reading (I’d rather be doing, I dunno, something else, like tending to my own real older youngins more — these occupy me endlessly, of course — or just sleeping more, or keeping up with friends, or replying to that dear letter from my mother’s friend who still lives, in her 90’s now — always a lovely lady to me: I remember her as a beautiful woman/mother even an adolescent girl recognized to be. well, SEXY).

I really look forward to reading the link. Paying for the Party is what we all do.


John Quiggin 03.24.14 at 7:23 am

Similar problems in Oz, though with more of a pushback from the authorities (including, somewhat reluctantly, the Catholic hierarchy of Sydney)


Zamfir 03.24.14 at 8:06 am

It sounds similar to the Dutch situation. Though, different from what Colin says above, it’s not driven here by truly hereditarily rich students, there just are enough of them and they tend to be somewhat low-key.

The driving group are students from well to do families who would still need an important job to become like that themselves. Typically their family also went to the local equivalent of fraternities. They know the system in advance, and their parents know it so they can tell when the partying is truly getting out to hand.

Quite some jobs( like at prestigious law firms) are drenched by fraternity culture, so partying at the cost of grades can be a net benefit to your career. But if you are new to system, that balance is hard to find. Often impossible, if you are not very skilled at social emulation. If you do the attitude wrong, it’s worse than not doing it at all.

I have seen it act as trap for people who like the parties and the promise of social climbing, but who do not quite grasp how the class difference is going to affect them. So a few years later they have debts, bad grades, and they’re still not really in the in-crowd.


Zamfir 03.24.14 at 8:10 am

There are NOT enough of the hereditarily rich…


oldster 03.24.14 at 9:39 am

…to make a really satisfying meal for the rest of us. Sorry, I began reading the thread at the bottom, before I’d read your full comment.

nick s–when I used to pick my way along the pavements stepping carefully between pools of vomit and prostrate university students in London, it did not seem to me obviously better than the US system in any way. Worse, possibly, or a near tie. I can imagine that Leeds does not have a lot of windows, and in Edinburgh they’re not high off the ground. But the kids lying on the pavement may as well have fallen from them. The drinking culture in UK universities struck me as deeply, deeply pathological.


Tom Hurka 03.24.14 at 11:35 am

I guess I should be glad I teach at a place the partiers call No Fun U.


Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 03.24.14 at 11:58 am

nick s: That’s what I was getting at up thread, about how things work at wealthier places, especially small liberal-arts colleges. However, I don’t know if it would work at a place with either the size or the demographics of a large public flagship. Also, it seems unlikely that the state legislature would be happy.


oldster 03.24.14 at 12:04 pm

You know, Tom, for a long time I thought the undergrads were shouting this at me. But then I realized I had been mishearing them. It wasn’t really “No, Fun U!” after all.


Trader Joe 03.24.14 at 1:26 pm

I read this book, or maybe I should say read about half and skimmed the rest, last fall on someone’s recommendation – it is a good read. The reason I put it down was, at least in my view, the narrative didn’t seem to assign much responsibility to the student for making bad decisions and seemed to ascribe most of the ‘fault’ to some combination of wealth inequality and bad university policy. As LFC noted above, the authors didn’t seem to rebuke the rich kids for squandering their opportunity since it was gonna work out ok for them, they only seemed to chastice the ‘poor’ kids for lacking the wisdom to see the consequences in trying to pull off the same thing.

Kids make bad decisions in college – its just a fact. As Harry noted @5, kids with resources can get the (sometimes literal) ‘get out of jail free’ card, kids with fewer resources don’t and can’t. I struggle to see how this is the university’s problem. In most cases the university has made an investment in the less-well off kids in the form of grants, aid etc. Suggesting that they then reduce temptation so that the kid doesn’t squander the opportunity seems a bit much.

It doesn’t make for good reading, but there is also a sizeable tranche of kids at this school (and most others) who aren’t at the frat parties and do stick to the hard majors and who win good jobs on their skills and pay back their loans etc. – but of course that doesn’t sell books.

In my experience you can counsel a kid till you are blue to choose a challenging major, take stretch courses and not party their face off but an 18-21 year old is gonna do what they’re gonna do. The motivation doesn’t come from more rules or less fraternities.


L.D. Burnett 03.24.14 at 1:32 pm

I was recently chatting with one of the undergrads at my university, a regional campus of the state’s public university system. For various reasons (institution began as a graduate school before adding undergrad majors, there’s no football team, no on-campus Greek houses, lots of commuter students, etc.), the place is not a “party school” as far as I can tell, which is just fine by me, and also by most of my students, who strike me on the whole as a very serious bunch.

And apparently the university takes pains to keep it that way. This student was telling me that there are “random” (though usually they are announced in advance) dorm inspections, where the residential management crew goes into each dorm room and looks for damage, unsafe conditions, illegal substances/paraphernalia, etc. (I know alcohol is forbidden in freshman dorms, for example.) So this crew comes through with clipboards or notepads or whatever and does spot checks not just in the common residential areas of student suites, but in their individual bedrooms. (This student was fined $25 for having one of the sofa cushions from his/her suite’s common living area in his/her bedroom.)

I don’t know if this is a common policy across public universities, and if so, if it’s a fairly new policy/approach. It sure wasn’t the policy at my private undergrad university — thank God! Periodic dorm room inspections, announced or unannounced (and I’m guessing there’s probably some fine print in housing agreements allowing unannounced inspections) — that just seems way too helicopter-parentish to me. I get that on campus housing is a privilege, not a right, etc. But sweeping dorm rooms for empty beer bottles or bongs or — God forbid! — misappropriated sofa cushions really smacks of putting the “loco” into “in loco parentis.” Surely there’s some middle ground between “every dorm a vomitorium,” and “every dorm a monastery”?


Cornellian 03.24.14 at 1:51 pm

Re the hotel / hospitality degrees:

At my university (Cornell), the hotel management degree is essentially an undergraduate business degree. Students take courses in marketing, finance, accounting, and so forth. About a 1/3 of graduates go on to work in the hospitality industry. A nontrivial proportion of the remainder go on to get MBA degrees. And, yes, a fair chunk of the incoming students have family connections in the hospitality industry.

I don’t know if this is true at IU, but at Cornell, the “hotelies”, as they are called, are denigrated by other students for their lack of intellectualism. (I’ve heard extremely insensitive jokes about which of Cornell’s many bridges the hotelies jump off when they are feeling overwhelmed by classes: real majors jump off the 100′ bridge, hotelies jump off the 6′ bridge in Ho Plaza.) My impression is that a disproportionate number of them wind up in sororities and fraternities.

As for this question:

Setting aside whether it’s a fake or real credential, the answer is pretty simple: hotel schools bring in money. They tend to have a large and wealthy donor base — Cornell has strong ties to the Marriott family, for example. And, there are more than enough high school seniors who are willing to pay top tuition dollar to get a pre-business degree from a well-known school.

As for why parents want to send their kids there if they are spending more time partying than studying, part of the point of Paying for the Party is that kids from wealthy or upper-middle class backgrounds tend to view the four (five, really) years of college as a life stage to which they are entitled, and which is as much about social growth and having fun as it is about gaining job skills. The credential offers legitimacy when they get out, but in the end, it’s the social capital and network connections that sort graduates of the hospitality and fashion majors into good jobs and bad jobs within the industry. So, yes, it is all about incoming inequality, and how college — ostensibly, the great leveler — reproduces those inequalities.


Cornellian 03.24.14 at 1:52 pm

Oops, screwed up the block quote. It was supposed to be a response to Bianca Steele @35.


hix 03.24.14 at 2:31 pm

The “serious” degrees are not any better for lower class students. Whos going to get through the first one or two years without getting tested out in an environment where at least 60% have to go? Sure not the laziest students or the ones with the worst aptitude. No, its the ones who are not stressed about it, because they know they can afford to fail.


Chatham 03.24.14 at 2:32 pm

This also raises the question of the advantage of the current post-secondary system vs. just adding two (or four) more years to secondary education (no debt, more gradual transition of responsibility, diminishing the SAT rat race/college hierarchy, more money going to academic activities, etc).


Anderson 03.24.14 at 2:36 pm

The flaws of in loco parentis do not necessitate an either/or choice that 18-19yos are actually mature and responsible.

That said, what we get at the typical big school is neither. If it were policed as well as a town the same size, a fair number of students would go off to jail every year. But they are “customers.” Can’t have that.

I have an 18yo bound for Ole Miss this fall, so I take some interest in this subject. The frats are a huge part of marketing U of Miss., and won’t ever be reined in for just that reason: the school needs them, and I’m quite sure the Greeks know it.


bianca steele 03.24.14 at 2:38 pm

It seems the authors blame poor grades on poor choices due to partying, or on poor parental foresight in letting girls know what preparation they’ll need to excel in college. This seems to let high schools and universities both off the hook. If the only people who succeed are well-off kids out of the university’s core target population, and nerdy engineering and pre-med students who administrators don’t want to be the public face of the university (not well rounded enough), it makes the statistics look reasonable, but a closer look might show room for improvement.

I keep being reminded of two high school friends I had who went to colleges a little better than they should have been able to get into. The one with real intellectual curiosity, a real academic interest, real organizational skills, leadership qualities, and the integrity not to cheat, didn’t graduate from there. The one who pledged a sorority, and had the chutzpah to pretend she belonged, did. I suspect she was also more aware of the high academic reputation of the school she went to, and the kinds of students she would find there.


Shatterface 03.24.14 at 2:47 pm

College students, whether or not they are “grown up,” should be treated, basically, as
adults in terms of rights (and responsibilities), but should be given guidance and an environment that does not facilitate or create incentives for bad decisions.

Why just infantilise students when there are people who don’t make it to college you could patronise?

Better a college ‘facilitates’ drinking and drug use than snitches students to the police. Are those outside college and with criminal records really so better off?


Anderson 03.24.14 at 2:51 pm

“Better a college ‘facilitates’ drinking and drug use than snitches students to the police.”

Uh, what?


MPAVictoria 03.24.14 at 2:55 pm

“Surely there’s some middle ground between “every dorm a vomitorium,” and “every dorm a monastery”?”

Indeed. I am not THAT far away from my undergraduate experience and I remember it very fondly. There were parties and nights out and hungover morning classes. There was also studying, learning and working hard. I think a university experience should, in a perfect world, have both.


MPAVictoria 03.24.14 at 2:59 pm

“That said, what we get at the typical big school is neither. If it were policed as well as a town the same size, a fair number of students would go off to jail every year. But they are “customers.”

I would say that is a problem with the town and not the University. Putting people in jail for minor offenses is NOT A GOOD THING.

/Too be clear I am not including sexual assault as a”minor offense”


Anderson 03.24.14 at 3:01 pm

” If it were policed as well as a town the same size, a fair number of students would go off to jail every year.”

I am not sure why MPA @ 56 thinks I meant “for minor offenses.”


MPAVictoria 03.24.14 at 3:28 pm

“I am not sure why MPA @ 56 thinks I meant “for minor offenses.””

Hi Anderson. I am right here. You could just, you know, ask me?


L.D. Burnett 03.24.14 at 3:32 pm

I think a university experience should, in a perfect world, have both.

I very much agree — though the idea of a “university experience” is also an unevenly available framework. Working-class kids, kids/families going into debt because they are counting on college as the pathway to upward mobility are not approaching university education as a time/place of experience/experimentation. Affluent kids can afford “the college experience” — that is, per the OP, they can absorb some of the opportunity costs of goofing off and screwing up to some extent. Kids who are looking to college for upward class mobility can’t afford to allow themselves much freedom, whether that’s the freedom to choose a “non-practical” major or the freedom to blow off a class or two and skate by. When they do make those choices, it costs them more in lost opportunities than it costs their affluent/well-connected peers.

So maybe it’s a good thing that the dorm-room inspection teams are doing their sweeps at public universities (if this is, in fact, common — I don’t know). Maybe most parents would be glad/relieved to know that no shenanigans shall be allowed in the dorms! But I find it unsettling. Compliance and conformity to rules/expectations are lessons today’s college students — especially aspirant students from the working class — have already mastered. The dorm room inspection crew adds something else to the mix: the lesson that institutional affiliation entails an utter lack of privacy. I suppose that lesson, too, is essential for employment. Part of today’s “college experience,” I guess.


David J. Littleboy 03.24.14 at 3:32 pm

The libraries at my undergrad school were open 24/7 except new years and July 4. The place I did an MA in East Asian Studies had a library that subscribed to Japanese newspapers. Kewl. I set up my schedule for Friday evenings to be Japanese newspaper time. The first Friday, I walked up to the enormous oak doors of Sterling Library and pulled. They.Were.Locked. Aha! A bulb goes off in my head. This is what the term “party school” means. And Yale, she is one.

I had a very sheltered upbringing, it seems.

But even my undergrad school (MIT) had fraternity problems: at one point they got fed up and insisted that all freshpersons lived in the dorms. My understanding is that this was effective at reducing the worst of the problems. I don’t know if any other schools have tried it, but it struck me as a good idea. Freshman year seems to be a year a lot of people make bad decisions, and in the slightly more protective environment of the dorms, the cost of those bad decisions could be less. Maybe.


Mike Otsuka 03.24.14 at 4:02 pm

Harry — You write that the book captures “the culture of a large public university well.” I’d be interested to hear whether you think the fact that these universities are public plays much of a role in explaining what’s going on? Are big, private universities oriented towards athletics and fraternities and sororities — places like Notre Dame, USC, and Duke — very different from these LFPs in facilitating a party pathway through college for the privileged?


bianca steele 03.24.14 at 4:19 pm

Cornellian: Thanks for the info. I’d been kind of under the impression that hospitality management degrees were supposed to prepare potential hotel managers and so on for the big corporations nationwide, drawing in all kinds of people, like accounting or engineering. (I also know someone from a former Soviet state with a developing tourism industry who majored in hospitality management, though that seems different.) It did occur to me (even) later last night that some of the industry contacts might have been small businesses, and students might feel like taking classes in what they’d grown up in would be easy. Or there was a thought that these degrees are similar to, say, animal husbandry, the assumption being that kids would learn the latest stuff and then go home to the family farm, or maybe possibly work for a government agency that helps people like their parents. And I’d hope that a city kid would be discouraged from taking animal husbandry, even if she loved animals and her biology scores were bad enough to keep her out of veterinary school.


nick s 03.24.14 at 4:50 pm

big, private universities oriented towards athletics and fraternities and sororities …

and relatively wealthy students.

I’d reckon that the difference between here maps to in-state vs out-of-state students, thanks to lottery grants and in-state tuition discounts. Places like Athens or Tuscaloosa remain an uncomfortable amalgam of “finishing school of their respective states’ institutional class” and “best academic option for high achievers from lower-class backgrounds”. Only 15% of enrolled students at Duke are NC residents, while UNC in Chapel Hill has an 18% cap on non-NC residents.


Mike Otsuka 03.24.14 at 5:17 pm

Thanks Nick S. But they’re not all wealthy. Some are from relatively modest backgrounds and on financial aid. Why doesn’t the following hold true of these two classes at private universities?:

easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene.


Sisyphus 03.24.14 at 5:43 pm

I think a major contributing factor as to how we got to the point of party schools and entitled students has to do with the rising cost of education. Because students are taking out huge loans, they aren’t, usually, responsible for paying for their education while they are there. When I was in school (and yes, I know I sound old – I am), I paid my own way. This meant that I was paying to be in classes, and if I skipped them, or failed them, then I was wasting my money and time. I think if more students could work their way through schools, they might be less inclined to party themselves into oblivion.


LFC 03.24.14 at 5:54 pm

Shatterface @55
I think you’re misreading my comment to which you take exception. “Guidance” does not equal “infantilization.”


L.D. Burnett 03.24.14 at 6:03 pm

@bianca steele 64 — Why would/should a city kid be discouraged from studying animal husbandry as an undergrad? Is that just because it’s vocational (like hotel management, etc.) or because it’s something with which they have no prior experience?


Ronan(rf) 03.24.14 at 6:06 pm

I think oldster’s vision @43 of a drink fuelled post apocalyptic London where survivors step over the the corpses of vomit covered 18 year olds is a little OTT tbh, fwiw.


bianca steele 03.24.14 at 6:20 pm

Because it’s vocational, and the job it leads to isn’t something you can really just start on in college. And unlike hotels, farms aren’t a growing part of the economy, so as far as I know there isn’t any recruiting pathway that would plausibly take 21 year olds with no farming experience into a job on a farm. Is there? If there was, I suppose someone who really decided to throw themselves into farming and found extracurricular and off-campus activities related to farming might have a chance.

But that’s speculation anyway, I don’t know whether hospital management is thought of something like the traditional agricultural majors. It doesn’t seem very similar to me.


John B 03.24.14 at 6:25 pm

I think the discussion tends to overlook the potential positive aspects of the party dorm. In the 18th century, gambling, horses, and duels eliminated many hereditary aristocrats. Perhaps party dorms can help perform the same social leveling function. The problem seems to be that they are not sufficiently exclusive, and so ensnare some aspiring middle-class students.

The simple (and market-oriented) solution would be to create lavish dorms specifically for the super-rich, with steep residency surcharges, in-room minibars, private casinos, and a well-tipped door staff ready to procure whatever other self-destructive means the young scions can imagine. To be sure, some students would flourish in such an environment. But many more would-be dynasts would see their dreams die at Hellfire House.

Come to think of it, some of the more expensive private colleges may already be becoming instruments of net downward mobility.


Sasha Clarkson 03.24.14 at 6:50 pm

LFC @67 I’ve been reading this thread with fascination – my experience was the opposite of yours. In the UK during the 60s and (in my case) the 70s our university fees were paid for, and most students received a maintenance grant. The grant was means-tested, but it enabled many working and lower-middle class kids to go to university. However, if one failed, then one was thrown out, and resits were at the student’s own expense.

But university wasn’t open to all, as it is in some countries. There was a limited number of places, which were allocated competitively on the basis of results in public examinations. This still applies now, even though free tuition and maintainance grants are a thing of the past. Many more kids go to university, and borrow heavily for the (much more doubtful) privilege. There is a cynical view than many are merely being conned into paying to keep themselves of the unemployment register for a few years.

My generation had it all, but we allowed Tony Blair’s government to pull the ladder up behind us. The system in my day encouraged a public service ethos amongst many of us. The much greater expense involved today inevitably encourages a more selfish attitude.


LFC 03.24.14 at 6:54 pm

Sasha Clarkson @72
You are responding to Sisphyus @67, not to me.


LFC 03.24.14 at 7:07 pm

a drink fuelled post apocalyptic London where survivors step over the corpses of vomit covered 18 year olds is a little OTT

probably, but it was an amusing comment if nothing else ;)


MPAVictoria 03.24.14 at 7:15 pm

Sasha @ 72

I know you probably know this but it started long before Blair.


L.D. Burnett 03.24.14 at 8:20 pm

Bianca, thanks for the reply. I guess I probably think of most college majors these days as vocational — or most undergrad majors at my institution, anyhow. I don’t recall offhand who has more majors, the business school or the school of engineering. I suppose someone might quibble about engineering being a “vocational” degree, but it seems so to me — as opposed to, say, a degree in the natural sciences or math or something like that. In any case, most undergrads seem to be choosing vocational majors.

Still, if there were an urban/suburban kid who got a bee in his/her bonnet to study agriculture, with no prior experience, I guess I’d look at that as one of those exploratory/experimental choices that can be part of the “college experience.” I suppose the sage advice in a case like this might be, “If you’re going to choose a vocational major, then major in engineering, because your odds of getting a job are better.” But something like animal husbandry might at least offer a non-bookish college kid from a non-farming background something different, something extraordinary. Maybe an extraordinarily bad choice of majors? But as long as it’s not an issue of going into huge debt, it seems that there could be worse things than majoring in ag science or animal husbandry or something like that.


Philip 03.24.14 at 8:24 pm

The whole not being able to drink legally until 21 and the sorority/fraternity thing has always seemed an obviously messed up system to me. However the main difference to the UK seems to be being able to choose an easy route through college. You still get students from public schools prepped to get into the more well regarded universities but because they don’t choose major and minor subjects they can’t really select an easier route and will just sacrifice grades for partying. Getting a 2:2 or 3rd from a good university wouldn’t be a huge problem for someone who is very well connected.

I suppose collegiate universities could act like the Greek system to some extent. My dad got a police scholarship to Durham in the early 80s. Durham University attracts a lot of people from public schools, and it’s generally assumed they weren’t quite good enough for Oxbridge, but is in a working class and deindustrialised area. One of my dad’s colleagues wouldn’t speak to him for the three years he was a student, on principle. He hated how if a student did something wrong the university tried to keep it quiet and would justify it as boys will boys while if it was a local kid they would be labelled as a yob or hooligan.


Dave 03.24.14 at 9:21 pm

I am shocked, shocked to learn that there is partying in this party dorm…

Seriously, it isn’t hard to imagine how universities can make this partying situation a little better. Just imagine, if you are a university, that your sole mission is to educate people. Everything you do should follow from that.

-Make the education prospective students will receive the forefront of your university’s sales pitch
-Tie official activities to academic performance
-bar academically underperforming students from attending athletic events (or other officially recognized university events and activities)
-enforce existing statutes on academic performance of greek organizations or even (!!) raise them
-do not promote greek life in any official capacity
-give free books to students with a 3.0 gpa or higher
-disband athletic teams whose participants underperform some designated standard
-fund meaningful social and cultural opportunities for honors programs and the like
-shower deans list or honors students with accolades, money, other opportunities

…and so on. I’m not sure “partying” is like a major problem for colleges, per se. It’s just if students want to party, make sure they know they have other priorities.

Universities are institutions, you know, they can do that.


oldster 03.24.14 at 10:00 pm

Come now, Ronan, I did not say they were vomit-covered corpses. They were still alive, in a vegetative way, and typically the vomit and the bodies were separate obstacles, not combined (might have been easier to pick through if the vomit was only on the bodies).

Secondly, I didn’t say it was post-apocalyptic–this all happened well before the apocalypse occurred. Hell, I’m describing a time before the millennium, or Millennium Dome’s day. What the London streets will look like after the apocalypse is something I cannot venture to conjecture.


Sasha Clarkson 03.24.14 at 10:02 pm

LFC @73 – I do apologise :)

MPAVictoria @75 … I take your point, but Blair did things, like introduce loans instead of grants, which Thatcher didn’t dare do. He not only continued many of her policies, but also did some of the Tories’ dirty work for them. And most of the Labour Party in parliament rolled over and played dead, or started chanting “Four legs good – two legs better”!

Sigh :(


Omega Centauri 03.24.14 at 10:16 pm

Since the subjects were all female, I wonder how much student attitudes have changed in the last half century?. Fifty years ago a degree in social climbing rather than than academics probably would have been more remunerative for female students, who could marry up-and coming male students. Perhaps social inertia has perptuated this student attitude even though mot females today end up having to have a career for part of their lives?

Although I suspect male student partying is probably just as bad.

The Greek thing could be advantageous for the non Greek students. At least the worst examples have been segregated away.


Sasha Clarkson 03.24.14 at 10:20 pm

From what I’ve seen, plenty of city types – or small townies – want to be vets, which is, for many, merely a higher social status animal husbandry. Why shouldn’t people want to move to a different environment from that in which they were brought up? I’m sure people from Birmingham have “run away to sea”!

A good agricultural college will provide a fusion between the academic and vocational. For example, one of the world’s leading statistical software packages, Genstat, was originally developed by the Lawes Agricultural Trust at Rothamsted a world class research institution.


Main Street Muse 03.24.14 at 10:55 pm

I still don’t understand why only young women are “paying for the party.” How is this representative?


Adam Hammond 03.24.14 at 10:57 pm

I teach at “where fun comes to die,” but, alas, we are turning up the burner on Greek life and recruiting a less masochistically self-selected student body. The changes are already turning up in the increased number of noise complaint calls to the police. But hey, our rankings are up!

And behind it all is the erosion of the common core – giving in, step by step, to the idea that the purpose of education is employment. Why did we allow vocational school to become a black mark? Wouldn’t we (the national we, lets say) be better off if people who wanted to enter a particular job could get efficient, specialized training for success in that occupation? I wouldn’t have a job, of course …


Zamfir 03.24.14 at 11:16 pm

Adam, vocational training got a black mark because the non-vocs got to be the bosses.


krippendorf 03.25.14 at 12:16 am

Main street muse: It’s an ethnographic study of a women’s floor in a party dorm. The authors make no claims that their study is representative of men, or of women in geek dorms, or of women in schools that aren’t similar to flagship public universities in conservative states in the Midwest.

Bianca: “It seems the authors blame poor grades on poor choices due to partying, or on poor parental foresight in letting girls know what preparation they’ll need to excel in college. This seems to let high schools and universities both off the hook.” Well … no. The authors are sociologists, and as sociologists, they are constitutionally unable to talk about choices without also talking about the social and institutional constraints that affect choices. (In fact, the senior author is an organizational sociologist, not an educational sociologist.)

In PftP, the authors devote quite a bit of space to discussing how university organizational structures (e.g. majors, absence of mentoring for working class students other than a handful of academically exceptional freshmen) and policies (e.g., alcohol) contribute to class-specific outcomes. They don’t talk much about high schools or parents, presumably because high school administrators and parents weren’t in their data set.

(No, I’m not one of the authors of PftP. I’ve read it, though.)


oldster 03.25.14 at 12:26 am

“The authors are sociologists, and as sociologists, they are constitutionally unable to talk about choices without also talking about the social and institutional constraints that affect choices.”

Now look, krippendorf: these sociologists are intelligent adults who are capable of making grown-up decisions. Infantilizing them is not the solution to this problem.


LFC 03.25.14 at 12:49 am

I don’t quite see how Bianca could have concluded that the authors of Paying for the Party were letting the university in question off the hook, since Harry B. in the OP says explicitly:

The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college…

That doesn’t sound like letting the university off the hook to me. Krippendorf’s reference to “the social and institutional constraints that affect choices,” in which sociologists (and social scientists more generally) are usually interested, is another way of putting the point that was made in the OP.


bianca steele 03.25.14 at 1:04 am

krippendorf: You’ve read the whole book and I haven’t, so I’ll take your word for it. I glanced at parts I could see through preview and saw language like (roughly, from memory) “parents had not made themselves aware of what the options really were.” This could be interpreted as a constraint on working-class parents and not a choice on their part–I’d argue it should be–but many people without the theoretical preconceptions of an institutional sociologist would read those words as a suggestion that the solution is for parents to become more aware of reality, and the best institutional solution would thus be to set up information centers that working-class parents can access. I’m happy to know the researchers would like to criticize institutions, but somehow, sadly, work like theirs seems to end up being used selectively.

Sasha: From what I’ve seen, plenty of city types – or small townies – want to be vets, which is, for many, merely a higher social status animal husbandry. Well, I’m confused. I guess I don’t really know what animal husbandry is. I knew girls who wanted to be vets when they were small–they wanted to take care of dogs and cats and bunnies, of which there are a lot in the city–not so many cows and horses.

L.D.: Thanks, I don’t think we’re disagreeing on much (except maybe what animal husbandry actually is, see my reply to Sasha). I’m just wondering about the ways a college education really leads to employment, or not, for different majors.


bianca steele 03.25.14 at 1:08 am

LFC: See my reply to krippendorf, above. Harry’s focusing on one chapter in this post, the one about the divide between middle and upper-middle class girls, which makes sense because it’s the one most directly related to the party culture, but there are two or three other chapter. The one I was thinking of was about the divide between poor and lower-middle class girls, or between girls from schools that sent lots of graduates to the flagship and schools where it was very rare for someone to end up there.


bianca steele 03.25.14 at 1:16 am

Incidentally, it also seemed to me unlikely–maybe they’ve established this, maybe not–that while the girls from the lower classes dropped to easier majors because they realized they couldn’t do college work in their first choices, especially if science was involved, the girls from the higher classes (but not the highest) all dropped because they wanted to party. If their ability to keep up with the work played a significant role, I think the explanation does let their high schools off the hook for letting them think they were prepared when they weren’t.


bianca steele 03.25.14 at 1:20 am

That should read “maybe they’ve established this, in a part I haven’t read”–it’s getting late for me and I was typing quickly.


LFC 03.25.14 at 1:28 am

bianca: I haven’t read the book or looked at it via preview, so I was just going by the OP. (Doubtless there is more in the book and perhaps there is some ambiguity in the message. But as I say, I haven’t read it.)


stubydoo 03.25.14 at 1:29 am

Back when I was a freshman at a fairly large public school I stayed in the (co-ed) dorm that was simultaneously both the partyingist of the party dorms and the geekiest of the geek dorms on the campus, not to mention also the richest of the rich-kid dorms.

Campus politics was dominated by avowed leftists. These leftists who dominated the political scene on campus sided overwhelmingly with the party kid faction against the geeks. They treated any effort by the geeks to shift the running of the place in a more geek-amenable direction as a deliberate ploy by plutocrats to protect the privileges of the wealthy. And this was not merely an opinion of theirs – they treated it as so obvious as to not require justification. The student-run newspaper would use the idea that a student could be found doing things like studying in the computer lab after dark on a weekday as a kind of shorthand for the fact that they belong to the class of evil overlords.

(By “geeks” above I mean “academically serious students”, not necessarily genius level intelligences. At least in the second paragraph).

Is there a lesson here relevant to the OP? I’m not sure (the main lesson I got from this was that campus leftists can sometimes be totally fake leftists, but that would be a whole different can of worms).


Harry 03.25.14 at 1:30 am

bianca — I don’t think that academics who want to do honest work have a lot of choice about how most people use it. Annette Lareau’s work has even been used in some obnoxious ways (and I was just reading one of Howard Gardner’s essays about how his work has been used). Krippendorf is right about what they say, and upthread you’ll see people complaining that they do not seem to attribute enough agency to the women themselves (whom they don’t blame or their choices). I feel pretty confident that the best use of their work (independently of its value for the discipline it contributes to, which is a different matter) is for academics and administrators to read it and discuss — including students in the discussion — what to do in the light of its findings. Its very hard, as someone working in a similar institution, not to feel somewhat responsible for the situation they analyse. Seeing the situation more clearly helps me in what advice to give to students, and how better to understand the choices they make (regardless of who I blame/credit for those choices). The first student I quoted above identifies as working class, and thought that the book made her experience (at a party school) “transparent’ (quoted from our conversation); and she does not blame her family or herself (this is someone I know pretty well, and she is right not to blame her family or herself). They are very critical of the institution, and (again quoting her) the book ‘put into words” feelings about the institution that she had been “unable to articulate”.

Mike Otsuka — I don’t know how well the analysis applied to other kinds of institutions, because I haven’t really spent much time outside public education. I did attend grad school at a private party school, and suspect that it applies pretty well to that institution then, but I was semi-detached, and the undergraduates I knew were much less representative of the overall population than the undergraduates I know in my current institution.


adam.smith 03.25.14 at 1:32 am

Three quick points, not related to the discussion so far, but to the OP
1. Harry, I recall you mentioning in your last post that you weren’t a great teacher. I’m going to call bullshit on that —not-great teachers don’t get those types of e-mails from their students

2. Are you aware the the This American Life on party schools?

3. (because everyone is thinking it): What, no Charlotte Simmons???


stubydoo 03.25.14 at 1:54 am

On another note, a couple of the comments above talk about alcohol, but I think alcohol is a bit a red herring here. Time spent socializing competes with time spent studying (and sleeping) regardless of whether you combine the socializing with alcohol. Yes, alcohol can cause accidents and certain problematic behaviors, but that’s an entirely separate problem from poor academic performance. Alcohol consumption even if taken to excess can still have minimal impact on academic performance, as long as you have the good sense to stop drinking in the 48 hours or so before an exam. I bet there are several people on this thread whose experience demonstrates this.


bianca steele 03.25.14 at 2:18 am

Harry, thanks for the reply. That makes sense. It’s just that, personally, I might find it hard to say some of those things and not be challenged, whether by people thinking I was letting others or myself off the hook, or by people assuming I was in fact blaming them. But that’s probably just me and in part a consequence of too much time worrying what people are saying on the Internet.

The Big U actually has a student-government type girl caught by mistake on a quasi-sorority floor, but Neal Stephenson isn’t well regarded in these parts. (It’s his first novel and that shows, though he evokes the 1980s campus and a weird-world version of “Boston U as total system” nicely. Also, after being drugged against her will, after making enemies of the sorority girls, and raped by their frat-boy overlords, she starts carrying a gun in a version of the “girl gets tough” scenario. And then there’s the insane D&D sysadmin and the ethnically coded maintenance workers and the drug-fueled cult of the weird-world Citgo sign and a bit of violent aggression- acting-out against the university. So not to everyone’s taste.)

I like Prep, which is obviously about high school, but it shows how, after she finished college, she felt about the initiation into the upper classes she got at private school, and what was important about what she learned there (academically as well as socially). I also thought it was depressing that she apparently didn’t learn anything she thought was negative about that world.

There might be another one I’m not remembering at the moment.


harry b 03.25.14 at 3:09 am

adam.smith — thanks that’s kind of you. Well, I think they think I am pretty good, and, for them, I think I’ve been ok (though probably not as good as they think I have).

I didn’t knowabout the This American Life — thanks, I’ll get get us all to listen to it.

And… Charlotte Simmons is what we’re finishing the semester with…


Clay Shirky 03.25.14 at 3:21 am

Alex @ 84:

The beginning of the black mark for vocational schools came a little over a century ago, when Charles Eliot of Harvard invented the sequence. Henceforth, people who wanted to become lawyers had to have an college degree before going to Law School, rather than bypassing college and going there directly, as had been the custom. This constraint was also added to medical school.

After that, the prestige ladder did its work through the 1940s, with other universities copying the Harvard model (and the colleges only too happy to support such a thing.)

And after that, for the 30 years following the end of WWII, the generalized transition to managerial or professional logic everywhere in American society, coupled with a willingness by the states to subsidize that shift to a degree unseen before or since, meant that expanding the role of colleges and universities into many forms of job training was simply a matter of taking the dollars being thrown at us.

And now, 40 years after the Golden Age began to recede, we’ve realized what’s gone missing. We used to be members of institutions that could, by keeping our expenses low and taking only the money our students could afford to pay, run ourselves more or less as we judged fit. Now, with our expenses growing at 7% a year and most of the tab underwritten in one way or another by tax dollars, and with 9 our of 10 of our students saying that they are getting an education so they can get a job, we work for other people.

I do not believe we will be able to reverse this change. The larger the percentage of your funding that comes from governments whose rationale is the production of a useful workforce, the likelier it is that your institution will be the vocational school, transformed by the demands of the people who fund us and thus have significant leverage over our collective fates.


SN 03.25.14 at 4:48 am

This is fascinating. I first went to a small, liberal arts college where there was a lot of partying. I did a massive amount of partying, got afraid both for my future and of my parents’ reaction to my slacking, then jacked up my GPA as much as I could and moved to the (equally prestigious) public flagship. The flagship was full of first generation immigrants who were way too afraid of their parents to party much and there I found my people.

I remember the odd phenomenon of meeting 18 year olds like myself who had credit cards. (Their parents paid the bills.) I tried to keep up with their spending on diner breakfasts, drugs, drink, etc. and ended up running out of money for food for a period long enough to sober me up permanently. (Of course, when I got into graduate school I also feel in with kids more affluent than I was and was foolish enough to get my own credit card, much to my future regret. I was a slow learner.)

When I think about this experience it makes me realize it was my entree into upper middle class life, where you try to keep up with the Joneses but can’t. Also, one’s parents still lurk in the background. The partying affluent kids were most definitely insulated from the costs of their behavior by their awareness of their parents’ affluence. At the first/second generation strivers’ school, merely watching too much TV would make us feel guilty because we knew our parents were expecting A’s.

Cohorts matter. A school’s culture is so significant. So yes, by all means permitting and encouraging a certain partying culture should be laid at the feet of administrators much more than it is. The students come in with certain proclivities but the young are damn malleable. I went from bookish scholarship student to fraternity little sister pretty fast (then luckily back to bookish scholarship student). We don’t ask for that total lack of structure

In the end, some of the affluent kids I met did well but a not-insignificant number of them crashed and burned. The lack of discipline and alcohol abuse and the like did catch up with quite a few of them. I wonder how many years the authors follow these students for? There’s a whole set of kids whose parents are rich but not super rich who also don’t do well under these circumstances in the long term. Even my richer friends’ parents got tired of paying their rehab bills (but paid them anyway).

Anyone looking back at their own stumbles in college realizes how damn young you are, and how ill-prepared some college students are for long-term decision-making.


Lew Dog 03.25.14 at 6:58 am

Isn’t nostalgia for wasted youth a marvelous privilege.


Lew Dog 03.25.14 at 6:59 am

Concepts of ‘censorship’ are not applicable.


Sasha Clarkson 03.25.14 at 10:24 am

Bianca @90 RE vets and animal husbandry: there’s probably a cultural difference between Britain and the US here. Popular perception of vets here was greatly influenced but the long-running and oft-repeated TV series All Creatures Great And Small, which left no doubt that being able to have an arm up the rear-end of a cow was one of the professional skills required. UK Vets schools are phenomenally difficult to get in to: money won’t buy you a place; you need both top grades and perceived aptitude. My friend’s boy, now at vet school, did work-experience with a local vet with a big pet-practice, but also helped with lambing on a farm about ten miles away. UK students are old enough to drink at 18, but he’s being worked so hard that, although life isn’t monastic, there is relatively little time for partying.

Of course, aspiring Masters Of The Universe don’t waste their time on anything so practical. THE course for them is PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford. David Cameron, The Miliband brothers and (too) many other UK politicians are products of this school. To be fair, Miliband E then went on to take an M.Sc in Economics from LSE. The daughter of another friend once expressed an interest in PPE. I commented that it was a course for those who wanted to be able to boss other people about, without acquiring a useful skill themselves. Her dad’s reply was “Perfect for xxxx then!” (But when she got a bit older she changed her mind and went for Modern Languages instead.)


LeeAnn 03.25.14 at 11:18 am

I think the incomprehension regarding the function or value of agricultural degrees reflects a geographically and, probably also, class restricted perspective. At least once upon a time, but even today I suspect, degrees like those (from large southern or midwesterm land-grant schools) were definitely a ticket to a good career.

I myself studied classically non-lucrative “luxury” subjects at two different ivy league schools but my father has a Ph.D. in horticulture (he is also lanscape architect, but that training was completely separate from his Ph.D.) and my grandfather had a Ph.D. in agronomy and was the Dean of a pretty big College of Agriculture within a medium-sized southern land-grant school. So there is actually an academic/research-oriented career path within those disciplines, and it may not be as lucrative as university-based medical research funded by Big Pharma, but it’s got a lot more money coming in than, say, Comp Lit (one of my past disciplines)—Monsanto anyone?

There are also plenty of opportunities in private industry, corp of engineers, non-profits—a “millenial” contemporary of mine with a degree in ag science has worked for USAID, Heifer Project and a number of private companies in the US and the developing world. Yes, he started out as a farmboy, but ended up working for an agriculture multi-national based in Singapore.


Ronan(rf) 03.25.14 at 2:39 pm

I think MPA was the closest to the truth way up thread somewhere.This dichotomy people are pushing seems bizzare to me, either you’re partying endlessly with the uber rich or you’re waiting in line for the giro with two pounds in your back pocket and rent to pay.
There is a middle ground here that I’d imagine most people live on.


Shelley 03.25.14 at 2:55 pm

Never knew that. It’s kind of hard to read when I think of my community college students trying to study, work, and manage their relatives and friends all at the same time, and while accumulating unpayable debt.



TM 03.25.14 at 6:38 pm

hix 51: “Whos going to get through the first one or two years without getting tested out in an environment where at least 60% have to go?”

This is a thread about American colleges. Here, students don’t get ausgesiebt or ausgetestet. Students are paying customers, after all!


TM 03.25.14 at 7:06 pm

It should be noted though that graduation rates at US colleges are notoriously low, on the order of 60% on average ( “Among full-time, first-time undergraduate students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2005, the 6-year graduation rate was 57 percent at public institutions, 65 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 42 percent at private for-profit institutions. This graduation rate was 56 percent for males and 61 percent for females.” These numbers are quite staggering considering how much time and money appears to be wasted by students unable to finish their degree within six years (the figures do not however account for transfer students who do graduate elsewhere). It is well known that graduation rates are correlated with SES, even when controlling for “academic ability” however measured. In other words, economic pressure prevents many low-income students from graduating at all, let alone getting good grades in desirable disciplines.

I wonder whether PftP addresses that issue? It seems to me that it is rarely mentioned at all in discussions of inequality and higher education.


harry b 03.25.14 at 8:17 pm

Its not just economic pressure, TM — there are questions about the quality of the institutions they attend, too. No, PftP doesn’t discuss this, it is very focussed on the somewhat selective end. They do note that of the working class women in the dorm, those who succeeded in their goals were those who transferred to regional campuses, not those who stayed; this goes against the now-conventional wisdom that you should attend the most selective institution that will take you (discussed here:; but they offer explanations that are plausible about why the general finding may still be right.

Today’s comment from a student in my office: “there are students whose parents put $50 on their cards every week. I mean, what is that? How come so many people here are so rich?”


Medoc 03.25.14 at 10:47 pm

This thread is begging for a dose of reality. Consider the following broad outline of the social situation at a flagship land grant state university mentioned up-thread as explained to me by numerous participants.

There is nowhere public (drinking age legal limitation) for the majority of undergrads to socially gather and mix in numbers necessary to create a desirably varied interaction. Describe this however you please but no one is really interested in a small get together, and alcohol is the preferred lubricant for these social interactions.

However for some reason fraternities and sororities are apparently or effectively exempt from trifling legal restraints like drinking age limits or degree of intoxication or consumption amounts etc etc. There is also (and this is important!…. more later) no “closing time” A moments reflection will lead to the obvious conclusion that this situation is enabling by collusion by all parties from the VERY TOP down including university leaders, the most senior elected state political figures AND the state legal system.

Therefore the frats and sororities have a monopoly (mostly exercised by the frats) on large, loose mash-up type social gatherings. So if you’re a latter-stage teen and want to mix it up……. who doesn’t?…. you really want to be able to get into these parties. Also like Club 54 or the Palladium etc in days of yore it’s a lot easier if you are a physically attractive young female but I digress.

Since there is no proscribed closing time these events tend to get started pretty late……. often really starting to warm up @ midnight or later and really hitting high gear @ 2:00 AM and lasting until……. well past St Peter’s bedtime.

Everyone and I mean a really significant MAJORITY figures out pretty quickly that the way to stay sharp, perky and energized throughout is…in a word,coke. Coke use is RAMPANT (one frat reportedly took a KILO to an out of town spring social. That’s @ 2.2 pounds or 37 to 38 ounces or @600 grams. Yee-Haaaa

Which requires an antidote. Zanax anyone? Also rampant

And the need to focus for occasions like exams or just the random really rough morning
(adderall) ditto on widespread use.

It really is a complete crap shoot as to who might navigate this course successfully….. Some very “worldly” and very wealthy kids completely flounder or worse. Of course the wealthier have the resources to get help. Oh and re: the discussion up-thread about the victim’s status as kids or young adults……… why we (and apparently Cormac McCarthy in No Country for Old Men) might bewail their lack of maturity and responsibility; think they should be adults or wish they were adults….they’re kids.

Reminds me of blaming appraisers for the real estate collapse. What a world, what a world.


Sasha Clarkson 03.25.14 at 10:55 pm

LeeAnn @106 You post reminded me that the late, great (at least IMHO) John Kenneth Galbraith got his first degree from Ontario Agricultural College – in Animal Husbandry.

At 6’8″ tall, he was, literally as well as metaphorically, a giant of a man! :)


clew 03.25.14 at 11:57 pm

Sasha Clarkson, vet school in the US is also terrifically competitive, expensive, and hard to get through. A vet friend (using it for wildlife research) told me… darn, I can’t remember if it’s full of kids who want to be horse vets, but all the jobs are in cat-and-dog, or the other way around. Maybe there are few big-animal jobs but pet vets don’t make a lot of money? Anyway, it’s extremely difficult and the ROI isn’t financial.


Matt 03.26.14 at 12:31 am

On vet jobs in the US- my understanding is that very few people go in to large animal medicine these days. There are jobs for people who want to do it, but it’s much physically harder, in worse conditions (cold, the middle of the night, etc.) and sometimes dangerous- getting kicked by a horse or the like. My impression is that the money can be somewhat better for being a “pet vet”, but that it’s mostly the fact that you can live in the city, have more regular hours, and work in much more comfortable conditions that leads most people to that. (It’s also possible that more people going in to vet medicine just like cats and dogs than horses, cows, sheep, etc., but I’m not sure that’s the main thing, compared to the other factors.)


ezra abram 03.26.14 at 12:45 am

Matt @115
A classic farmer injury is cracked pelvis: the farmer is standing between the cow and the wall when the cow decides to scratch itself…


harry b 03.26.14 at 1:59 am

Medoc’s point about coke use isn’t discussed (at least, I don;t remember it, I lent the book to a student so it is not to hand) in the book. It was, however, more than hinted at by the sorority member in our group (of whom I can say, pretty confidently, that if she herself is a significant user, I am a monkey’s uncle).


Medoc 03.26.14 at 2:46 am

The third paragraph may come off as a bit inflamed but I am pretty close to positive that all the agents mentioned know or can discover pretty much any thing they want to know or discover about whatever is going on. It’s almost as if the institutions are to a significant degree operated; at least on an undergraduate level as some sort of social, sports and entertainment complex for the privileged funded by the taxpayer. A nearly perfect arrangement from a certain point of view.


TM 03.26.14 at 2:51 pm

harry 111: “Its not just economic pressure, TM — there are questions about the quality of the institutions they attend, too. No, PftP doesn’t discuss this, it is very focussed on the somewhat selective end.”

Well the graduation rates cited are 57 percent at public institutions, 65 percent at private nonprofit institutions. My understanding was that this was not an elite institution. “the quality of the institutions they attend” – but how is that not related to economic pressure? The lower income students attend “lower quality” institutions, whatever that means (the figures above don’t even include community colleges, which have graduation rates below 40%). I would just reiterate that the correlation between graduation rates and SES seems not to get as much attention as it deserves.

My guess would be that economic pressure directly or indirectly explains most of it. Why do students drop out? Because the classes were too hard? I think that is rarely the reason. In my experience (ok anecdotal), a student who manages to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops required, to come up with the tuition every semester, and to show up in class most of the time will not fail academically. However if you have to work two shifts to make ends meet, you may not be able to clear these hurdles. Isn’t that the elephant in the room?


harry b 03.26.14 at 3:14 pm

In the world I inhabit, the relationship between SES and graduation rates gets a LOT of attention. And SES interacts with the quality of an institution. The institutions lower SES students attend have (on average) weaker advising services, are ones in which you are less likely to be able to take all the required courses in a timely fashion, even if you are pretty savvy, etc, so this all makes it harder to figure out how to jump through the hoops. I agree it is not because the classes are too hard (usually). Obviously, the more you have to work for pay (above some pretty low threshold) the harder everything is going to be. And, going into a significant debt and not graduating is worse than not going to college at all.

The institution in PftP was a state flagship. Not a Madison or Michigan or Berkeley, but still on the highly selective end of the spectrum (most students attend colleges which are not selective at all – for which a high school diploma/GED suffices for matriculation).


Main Street Muse 03.27.14 at 12:57 am

What’s in it for colleges to “facilitate (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college?” What gains are felt by the university that strategically offers this party path instead of good advisors? [I am relatively new to the university setting and find it a rather odd universe in many respects.]


Cranky Observer 03.27.14 at 1:03 am

= = = What’s in it for colleges to “facilitate (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college?” What gains are felt by the university that strategically offers this party path instead of good advisors? = = =

“Development potential”. i.e. the ability + desire of graduates (and possibly their family members as well) to donate cash for the rest of their lives. Plus the ability to place new graduates into lucrative jobs via alumni networks, where said graduates can develop development potential. And send little Arya to Square State U in 20-22 years, preferably with a little development bonus on top of the tuition check.

If this system seems a bit circular, well…



Main Street Muse 03.27.14 at 1:13 pm

Cranky @ 122 – this circular arrangement seems at odds with the thesis of Paying for the Party – partying all the time inhibits the poorer students – the ones without connections – from getting jobs that will enable them to contribute to their alma mater. Seems an odd strategy for universities – to strategically engage in a party pathway that keeps a sector of alumni out of work.


harry b 03.27.14 at 1:40 pm

MSM — I think you should read the book (as everyone should!) because I feel I am not conveying things well. The effects on the lower income students are collateral damage, not part of the strategy; and it is possible that the strategy could be implemented without the collateral damage (or without as much) if officials were better aware of the ways the processes work, and wanted to do something about it (the authors don’t recommend maintaining the strategy by the way!)


hix 03.27.14 at 1:58 pm

Tm, I admit to describing a far too German scenario (which is not representative for every high status/secure professional career degrees either). The model should still work, paying customers or not. When students perceive more pressure to perform one way or another, the psychological burden is higher for lower class students. The described risk to graduate late with high tuition fees will get that done almost as good as the risk to get kicked out for bad performance. Objective hard tests are not necessarily the only reason in the German scenario either. Scaring students more or less subtile and organicational chaos can also achieve high failure rates.

Or as a particular highlight, one could tell students that certain topics will not be part of the test, write the test almost exclusively about that topic and then sue a student who complains about it for sexual harassment.


TM 03.27.14 at 3:37 pm

“When students perceive more pressure to perform one way or another, the psychological burden is higher for lower class students.”

I’m not sure that this should necessarily be the case, except for the obvious fact that the richest students can expect to do well in life however they fare academically. There is still often a high psychological burden on upper-middle class students due to their parents’ expectations. In the American system, there is often enormous pressure, and from an early age, on the children of ambitious upper-middle-class parents to get into elite schools and all that BS. I imagine it has to be pretty damaging. In the German system, poor students are independent of their parents due to Bafoeg while those from higher-income families rely on their parents’ contributions, with obvious social and psychological effects. I was in the first group and I think I was lucky.


Main Street Muse 03.27.14 at 5:40 pm

Harry – I absolutely want to read this book – thanks for the recommendation. I am new to the university universe, after a lifetime in the private sector – it’s a very strange place (to me). I really enjoy working with my students but feel that far too many of them come to college unprepared for the rigors of the world. It’s been an eye-opening experience to say the least.


AZSunDevil 03.28.14 at 10:16 am

As a parent of a college junior and living in the affluent suburbs of Phoenix, and of course as a graduate of the second largest college in the country, ASU, the chances of my son living on campus and me turning him loose at ASU is ZERO. Increasingly, lots of us parents that have the money to send our kids to University and get enough grants and loans that we can even send them with our credit cards to pay extra expenses are instead choosing to send our kids to the local Community College where they can live at home for two years, not incur an extra $25k in student loans, and we can make sure they don’t get sucked into the life of a party student. Other parents, mostly new money parents who do well now but were not lucky enough to live on campus and party themselves, see college for their upper middle class kids as a right of passage and they are willing to fund their kids going there to have a good time for four to five years.

I am not sure where the line is drawn between the pragmatic community college live at home model and the off to college enjoy your five years of no responsibilities model, but the enticing nature of student loans, grants, and scholarships by the major universities means that you don’t have to pay the piper now. My kid picked up 60+ credits at the JUCO and lived at home and doesn’t have a dime in student loan debt plus has a great GPA in Computer Info Systems.

I have very little sympathy for the situations described. For the affluent that turn their kids loose and think connections are going to get them through life after they get done with five years of partying–what a waste. For the Lower SES kids that change their major so they can party more, you gave up your chance to climb the social ladder. But really, for all of the above parents–if you send your kid to live in a dorm, live on campus, join a frat/sorority and they are not self motivated, self disciplined, and don’t know what they want to be when they graduate, you are just plain stupid. University life and living on campus is damaging under any circumstances other than that. It leads to massive debt and little change in your SES trajectory. If you kid is not ready to be on his/her own, then don’t turn them over to the massive university to live on campus. Keep them close to home and ensure that they get their degree and help them choose a useful major.


AZSunDevil 03.28.14 at 10:25 am

More successful, oddly, were the women who left the flagship university for far less prestigious regional campuses that turned out to be free from the distractions of partying and social hierarchy, where they were able to shift to practical majors like teaching or nursing that produced real jobs straight out of college. “We assumed that they were washed out,” Armstrong said. “But as we kept talking to them we realized most had transferred to four-year branch campuses and kind of got back on track.” It took longer for these transfers to graduate, but they had less debt and better employability than those of similar profiles who stayed.

From the Deseret News article. Well duh. So the question that should occupy everyone’s mind is why this is not common knowledge BEFORE these students spend a year or two racking up student loans at the prestigious university? Why do parents (who know their kids better than anyone) let their kids go off to the wrong school in the first place? That falls on our society that tells us “sure take out the $100k in student loans to study communications,” it falls on the guidance system at high schools that doesn’t advise kids properly, and it falls on parents who don’t know what they should be looking for in a school and don’t take the time to learn. These kids are dumb impressionable consumers that are being sold a bill of goods that a prestigious university with a good football team and nice Frat Row is the place to go.


GiT 03.29.14 at 1:52 am

Teen Vogue (surprise?) is on the beat as well:

Poor at Princeton, Strapped at Stanford: Being a Low-Income Student at an Elite College:


LFC 03.29.14 at 8:18 pm

I disagree with your implication that a student should/must know what he or she wants to do (in terms of job/career) before going to college. You write: if you send your kid to live in a dorm, live on campus, join a frat/sorority and they are not self motivated, self disciplined, and don’t know what they want to be when they graduate, you are just plain stupid.

Ok, but these three things — “not self motivated, [not] self disciplined, and don’t know what they want to be when they graduate” — do not necessarily go together. A student can be very self-motivated and self-disciplined and not have the slightest f***ing idea what he/she wants “to be” after graduation. One unfortunate consequence of the rise in tuitions and debt etc over the last decades is that many students now probably have less willingness/opportunity to explore various courses/paths/etc before deciding on one.

Also, this:
Keep them close to home and ensure that they get their degree and help them choose a useful major.
You are implying that a “useful” major is one that will lead to directly to employment. But what if a kid does not want to study something very practical like Computer Information Systems? What if a someone is interested in, I don’t know, physics or history or literature or languages or anthropology or sociology or music or etc etc etc? I guess your answer to that person would be: Tough sh*t; you don’t have the luxury to do any of that in a difficult job mkt. (So they go into something they hate, loathe, and despise; find a job; and proceed to be miserable for the rest of their lives. I’m exaggerating, of course, for the sake of making a point.)


LFC 03.29.14 at 8:21 pm

“lead directly to…”

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