Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pillars of Cultural Capital

David Brooks talks about the social stratifications that are setting in as the information age matures.

As Ross Douthat notes in The Atlantic Monthly, a child growing up in a family earning over $90,000 has a 1 in 2 chance of getting a college degree by age 24; a child in a family earning $35,000 to $61,000 has a 1 in 10 chance; a child in a family earning under $35,000 has a 1 in 17 chance.

The main problem is not that poor students can't afford college. This country has oceans of financial aid sloshing around. As William Bowen, Martin Kurzweil and Eugene Tobin note in their book, "Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education": "The number of students who are currently prevented from enrolling by a straightforward inability to pay is small."

Nor is the main problem that these poorer students don't have access to college. Over the last few decades, the share of young Americans who enter college has shot upward.

The problem is that students who enter college often find they are unable to thrive there. As enrollment rates have shot up, completion rates have actually drifted down. And it is students from less-educated families who are dropping out most.

The new inequality is different from the old inequality. Today, the rich don't exploit the poor, they just outcompete them. Their crucial advantage is not that they possess financial capital, it's that they possess more cultural capital.

The forces driving cultural inequality are powerful, and maybe insurmountable. But each generation of Americans seems to be challenged in its own way to provide its children with an open field and a fair chance. This is our challenge.
This is a grand challenge and I agree it is very important. How do we allow all American's the opportunity to succeed in life?

via New York Times $elect

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