- Degrees of Choice: Social Class, Race, and Gender in Higher Education
Higher Education in western civilization has shaped the world. Technological advances, innovation in instructional delivery, and financial support has opened the doors of education to most of the population. While an American mindset proposes access as common, the reality is that much of the world's citizens face difficulties in terms of access to higher education. The authors of this text address variables impacting access to and choice within higher education in the United Kingdom. Over the course of the eight chapters the authors highlight external variables directing access for individuals. The information is specific to the United Kingdom, but can also be understood through multiple lenses.
The introductory chapter provides the theoretical framework for the text and highlights [End Page 733] that the literature base for research on higher education choice was not extensive. The context is supported by Bourdieu's research on distinction and judgment, expanding that literature to understand student choice in higher education. The authors attempt to connect institutional and family variables and their influence on decision-making in education. To expand the discussion of student demographic in higher education, the authors also discuss non-traditional students (working class, ethnic minorities, and older women). Expanding the types of students considered hopes to expand the reader's understanding of choice in education. Most importantly, the text provides narratives of the parents of students to obtain perspective on their role in the choice process.
The first two chapters of the text provide more information on the empirical foundation utilized in the text. Chapter 1 describes the demographic profile of those enrolled in higher education and how the historical events that have altered the demographic. This chapter also includes information on the impact of the changing demographic groups entering higher education and on the influences that have expanded access across gender lines. The chapter concludes with the data, both qualitative and quantitative, on the six institutions researched for this text. Chapter 2 defines the theoretical underpinnings and operationally defines "choice" in terms of this research. Bourdieu (1977) is provided as the theoretical basis and his concepts of habitus, cultural capital, and field are used to understand choice in higher education. Cultural capital is operationally defined as the qualitative dimensions of family role and environmental factors that influence a student's feelings about higher education and, ultimately, that person's ability to succeed. Habitus is defined as the manifestation of social conditions, biological factors, and institutional structures and their role on society. It is also relates to the social conditions a student presents in an education environment. Field is defined as the specific social setting where class dynamics manifest, for instance in a classroom or workplace. The remainder of chapter explores how those three factors influence decision making of higher education applicants.
Chapter 3 focuses on the institutional habitus (or structure) and the role it plays on a student's choice in higher education. Research on institutions in the United States is also introduced for comparison. The chapter also discusses the role career advice plays on a student's decisions and potential success. It is asserted that the quantity and quality of career advice provided to a student can direct their path in both choosing an institution and their motivation for success. The chapter concludes with information on the collective versus the individual process of decision making related to choice in higher education. The subsequent chapter deals specifically with the parental role in higher education choice. Family structure, experience with education, and the relationship between parent and institution are characterized. Several quotes from both parents and students emphasize the powerful impact parents play in the selection process.
Chapters 5 and 6 focus on specific populations: working class (chapter 5) and ethnic minorities (chapter 6). Information on UK governmental policy and societal changes are provided to clarify the decision-making process for working students. Focus is also placed on access and how policy changes have...