The Privileged Poor
How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students
Elite colleges are accepting diverse and disadvantaged students more than ever before—but to Anthony Jack, access does not equal acceptance. An Assistant Professor at Harvard and author of The Privileged Poor, Jack—once a low-income, first-generation college student himself—studies how poor students are often failed by the top schools that admit them. In talks, he details how class divides on campus create barriers to academic success—and shares what schools can do to truly level the playing field.
Anthony Jack, sociologist and Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard University, is transforming the way we address diversity and inclusion in education. His new book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students, reframes the conversation surrounding poverty and higher education. In it, he explains the paths of two uniquely segregated groups. First, the “privileged poor”: students from low-income, diverse backgrounds who attended elite prep or boarding school before attending college. The second are what Jack calls the “doubly disadvantaged”—students who arrive from underprivileged backgrounds without prep or boarding school to soften their college transition. Although both groups come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the privileged poor have more cultural capital to navigate and succeed—in the college environment and beyond.
“No matter how much a student knows about Chopin and Beethoven, at the end of the month, they’re still hungry.”— Anthony Jack, on the limits of cultural capital.
“It’s one thing to graduate with a degree from an elite institution, and another thing to graduate with the social capital to activate that degree,”Jack explains. In many ways, rather than close the wealth gap, campus culture at elite schools further alienate poor students by making them feel like they don’t belong. To challenge these deeply ingrained social, cultural, and economic disparities on campus, we must first begin to question what we take for granted. Jack reveals how organizations—from administrators and association organizers, to educators and student activists—can ask the right questions and bridge the gap.
Anthony Jack is a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and assistant professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Recently, he wrote a feature for The New York Times Magazine’s Education Issue, based off his book and life experience as a low-income college student. His research has been cited by The New York Times, the Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, The National Review, The Washington Post, American RadioWorks, WBUR, and MPR. His book The Privileged Poor, was named the 2018 recipient of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize by Harvard University Press.