Low-income students have historically struggled in applying to colleges, especially liberal arts colleges. However, presently low-income students have had significantly more access to university due to changes in admission policies; the largest challenges now facing low-income students are during their time at university, where they struggle to maintain similar retention rates and comparable social and academic integration when compared to wealthier peers. In this research, I examined Grinnell College as a case study of liberal arts colleges as it is an interesting example due to no significant differences in average GPA or retention rates between social classes. I used an explanatory, sequential mixed-methods design to explore the experiences of low-incomes students at liberal arts colleges, focusing on belonging. I found that low-income students, despite claiming to belong at similar rates to wealthier peers, express narratives of difference where they have distinctly different experiences from wealthier peers. Differences included but are not limited to distinctive interpersonal relationships with faculty, staff, and peers, and low-income students’ lower participation levels in social events. However, despite these differences, low-income students often “work the system” to equalize their differences. Based on my findings, I propose a 7-point plan for improving the experiences of low-income students at liberal arts colleges.
Social class, low-income students, first-generation students, sociology of education, liberal arts colleges
Burnette, Timothy E.
"Narrative of Difference: The Effects of Social Class on Belonging at Liberal Arts Colleges,"
International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities:
Vol. 10, Article 4.