The Gustavian Weekly

Gustavus breaks gap in higher education | The Gustavian Weekly

By Lizzy Woerpel - Opinion Columnist | November 8, 2019 | Opinion

One of the most complex gaps in higher education is the socioeconomic gap. This gap includes students from working and/or lower economic classes who are often first-generation students. In looking at this gap it is important to look at three different groups of personal capital: human capital, social capital and cultural capital. Human capital is any knowledge, skills or ability that the students has.

This type of capital is attainable by all students, and students are in control of how much of this capital they have. The other two, however, are typically out of the control of the student. Social capital is someone’s social network and cultural capital is the knowledge of what is expected in different roles.

These are the two types of capital that affect students from different socioeconomic backgrounds the most. Going into college, students who know professors, people in their intended field or people in administrative roles at colleges have an insight to college and advantages that other students don’t have. In addition, students who grew up around people who attended college know what is expected in those roles and how to fit into those expectation whereas a first generational student may not such a privelage.

After graduating from Gustavus alum, Erin Eger, attended graduate school at Western Washington University where she helped run a study on educational gaps based on economic groups.

The goal of the study was to see if they could close the socioeconomic gap by paying for students’ education. Though they did find that this helped the issue, it clearly didn’t solve it. Eger worked as an adviser for the students in this study and found that there were a large amount of other issues that made finishing college difficult for these students. She quickly found that the students needed a lot more help than just having their college expenses paid.

In order to address this gap, Gustavus has the First Forward Network which works with first-generational students and provides them with additional resources. In data from the U.S Department of Education, Gustavus ranks slightly above most other liberal arts colleges in Minnesota with 27 percent of the student body receiving Pell grants whereas St. Olaf has 17 percent and Luther has 19 percent. Gustavus also has a high rate of graduation amongst these students with 89 percent graduating within six years compared to St. Olaf’s 87 percent and Luther’s 66 percent. 

These programs aren’t without their flaws but the community on campus and the active role that faculty and administration play in the lives of students on campus is what helps to bridge these socioeconomic gaps and allow students the opportunity to succeed.

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