NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Revealing Look at a State Flagship

May 8, 2013

With college debt skyrocketing as parents and taxpayers foot the bills at large state flagship universities, a new book by sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton reveals the culture of partying that distracts many students and lowers the value of a college education. The book confirms parents' worst fears -- that flagship universities are not worth the top dollar they are paying, says George Leef, director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

The book tracks a group of women who lived on one floor of a dorm at a school, purposefully kept anonymous by the author but revealed by Leef to be Indiana University. The book divides the 50 young women into three pathways: the Mobility Pathway, the Professional Pathway and the Party Pathway.

  • The Mobility Pathway students come from predominantly lower income families and intend to use college to improve on their parents' economic conditions. Many of the mobility students strive to focus on academic work initially but fall victim to the allure of the party scene. The result is that many did poorly in easy classes and only a few actually landed good jobs after college.
  • The Professional Pathway students intend to use their undergraduate years as a means of getting into a career like law or medicine.
  • The Party Pathway students are in college to have fun and intend to take the easiest courses that will allows them to get a degree. These students rely on making contacts and earning credentials they need for future success, though many are at risk of experiencing downward mobility.

Sororities and fraternities play a large role in the party atmosphere on flagship campuses because partying requires a lot of time and money, which more affluent Greek members tend to have. Low grade point averages were a problem for many of the 50 women who were tracked throughout and after their experience at Indiana University.

  • The authors conclude that school officials don't crack down on excessive partying or get rid of easy majors because it serves the schools interests to keep standards as low as possible to attract more students, many of which are the core of the party atmosphere.
  • The authors also conclude that college perpetuates class differences, a conclusion that Leef effectively dispels.
  • Instead, Leef points out the logical conclusion from the book that state flagship universities are a waste of time and resources for many students, regardless of class. Regional schools offer lower tuitions and environments more conducive to studying.

Source: George Leef, "A Revealing Look at a State Flagship," Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, April 30, 2013.


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