Class in Higher Education

Social class in higher education is frequently an overlooked topic within the academy. This might be due to the complexity behind the definition of social class. When discussing social class, typically the conversation is centered around economic class. This is class based on the availability of assets or wealth that a person has access to. This could also mean the amount of resources and knowledge that a person has access to. This manifests into large discrepancies between economic classes, like we have seen over the past years with the top 1% becoming increasingly wealthier while most are seeing shrinking wages.

Economic class is not something that most student affairs professionals talk about when examining the profession. One way that economic class manifests within student affairs professionals is the idea of professionalism. This can be examined through language, attire, and expectation of attendance at university sponsored events. In terms of language, professionals can come from a variety of educational backgrounds and may not have the same exposure to terms commonly used with higher education spaces. Not having the knowledge of this style of language within the academy can alienate people and create further barriers for professionals within the field. Another way that class identity can be examined in higher education is attire. Whether this is the expectation that staff pay for school branded clothing, which can be pricey, or adhere to office dress code policies. These policies can disproportionately impact professionals and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have the resources to adhere to such policies. Finally, many student affairs professionals are expected to attend various university sponsored events. These events are not always free for attendance, which means the professional must use their own money to attend these events. Many professionals may not have the resources to attend these events.

Awareness of social and economic class within higher education is critical for the success of the profession of student affairs. Professionals come from all economic classes, and the practices within the profession should reflect this diversity within the profession. Thus, dress and attendance at university events should take into account that not all student affairs professionals have the resources to devote to these unspoken rules within the profession. Before offices have these policies and expectations of staff, they should look at how these practices and policies may impact the staff in which they are intended to include.

One example of how economic class can show up within students is the practice of internship requirements. Many students are required to have an internship as a part of their degree requirement. Numerous internships that are available for students are unpaid. This creates a scenario where students are not being compensated for their work and are unable to devote this time to paid opportunities. This disproportionate disadvantages students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Higher education, in general, needs to recognize the diversity of economic not only within administration, but also faculty and students within the academy.



Ardoin, S. & martinez, b. (2019). No, I Can’t Meet You for an $8 Coffee: How Class Shows Up in Workplaces. In Reece, B. J., Tran V.T., DeVore, E. N., & Porcaro, G. (Eds.), Debunking the Myth of Job Fit in Higher Education and Student Affairs (p. 1-26). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

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