College, Class Mobility, And The Transition Into Adulthood

During my first week working on the adulthood project this summer I explored  two questions; is college really helping to increase class mobility, and does the transition into adulthood vary depending on social class? I was curious to see how much one’s social class affected our experiences, in terms of education and adulthood. I came across a very interesting article on the college admissions process for selective schools in the United States criticizing the way colleges and universities do not promote class diversity among their students. William Deresiewicz states that the top-tier school system is”…exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that are isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead”. He talks about the lack of economic diversity on these campuses today and says that racial and ethnic diversity had increased, however what we are seeing now is children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. The most disadvantaged by our current admissions policies are working-class and rural whites, who are hardly present on selective campuses at all. He explains that the admissions process is based on GPA, Sat scores, extra curricular activities, student’s experiences in their essay, parent’s income, community service; all of which can be increased by money to create an outstanding applicant and favor the upper class. Today, fewer than half of students with high SAT scores from low-income families even enroll at four-year schools. His theory is that this trend of setting apart the upper class in elite colleges around the United States is not just increasing tuition, but “manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them”.

This brings me to my next article that connects this idea of college students of different socio-economic backgrounds and their transition into adulthood. My theory was that kids whose parents come from a lower economic class would reach adulthood sooner than kids whose parents are from a higher economic class because of increased responsibility and self-reliance, however the article I read Affording Emerging Adulthood: Parental Financial Assistance of their College-Aged Children proved to say otherwise. This article looks at students whose parents had helped them out financially with college, and at different levels of financial assistance. They wanted to see how well these students transitioned to adulthood and financial independence based on how much help they received throughout their education. What they found was very interesting and opposite of what I had previously believed. They found that parent’s who gave the least amount of financial support were among the bottom quartile of family incomes, but they were more likely to say their child was an adult. Young adults who received the least amount of help were much more likely to say they were an adult than young adults who received a lot of financial assistance, which wasn’t surprising. However, young adults in the top quartile of family incomes received three times more financial assistance than children in the bottom quartile and that more financial support is linked to higher educational achievement, higher standard of living, and higher income. This being said the study suggests that immediate positive outcomes come from students given less financial help and more rapid pace to adulthood is forced upon them, but negative long term outcomes are also likely because working to pay for school makes it harder to meet educational goals which decreases the likelihood of becoming totally financially independent from ones parents.


The whole cycle of working hard in school, attending college, and getting a job seems to be somewhat predetermined by the economic class of one’s parents and is a influential factor on the trajectory of their child’s emergence into adulthood. This brings me to wonder just how influential is our parent’s social status on how successful we are as their children. Not to say the American Dream is impossible because there are many exceptions, but society today and the current instability of the economy is only making these exceptions fewer. The current economic state is causing the millennial generation to respond to this financial drought and jobless market, unlike the world of our baby boomer parents, causing us to adapt by pro-longing adulthood due to the changing world. These changes seem to be creating a more difficult transition into adulthood for everyone, and creating a larger gap between the rich and poor with less people in between. The way our societies policies and standards do not change in a changing world only making the achievement of the American Dream and class mobility seem more impossible. So hopefully I will read something more uplifting and hopeful on this topic of class and adulthood soon to come for now reality isn’t looking up.