The Privilege of Ease: Social Class and Campus Life at Highly Selective, Private Universities

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49 Scopus citations


Active involvement in college activities is linked to a host of student development outcomes, including personal growth, achievement and satisfaction. Yet, to date there has been too little attention to how social class shapes campus involvement. Through an analysis of survey data of students attending a single elite university and a national sample of students at highly selective, private universities, I consider how class background is associated with participation in college activities and satisfaction with campus social life. Reflecting a history of class-based exclusion, the typical elite university student enters college from an affluent household, although distinct class fractions help conceal significant gaps and differences across the college years. Dominant class students devote considerable time to social and recreational activities, while middle and subordinate class students are more likely to have a part-time job to pay for college expenses. This pattern of campus involvement explains middle and subordinate class students' lower levels of satisfaction upon graduation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-452
Number of pages27
JournalResearch in Higher Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • College satisfaction
  • Elite education
  • Extracurricular participation
  • Social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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