Essay 3

Michele Sargent

Professor Steven Alvarez

English 110

06 May 2012

An Institutional Analysis and Academic Meritocracies

The College Dream in America

My learning experience atQueensCollegeso far has been rather reasonable but I have to admit that it comes with some criticism. I always had an idea that college life would be somewhat difficult, but the didactics are not the only obstacles I must surpass to succeed academically. I understand now that there is much more involved in achieving my goals than simply studying hard and obtaining high grades. Overcrowded classes, unhelpful staff and high cost of tuition are just some of the issues that students must face in order to obtain a college degree.

In this essay I will demonstrate that the dream of getting a college degree in the United States is really a nightmare. Students are forced to drop-out because of overcrowded classes as discussed in the article “The “Cooling-Out’ Function in Higher Education” by Burton Clark, where he claims that students are often misguided by the system and then forced to adjust to the reality of its situation. Another issue that students must face is the college policies and the staff they hire to enforce them, like the article “The Economy of Symbolic Goods.” by Pierre Bourdieu shows that people often feel subjugated by the rules imposed upon them and must accept and live with them. In addition, students must also conform to paying the high cost of tuition and be forced to leave school with mounds of debt in the hopes of paying it off in a timely manner. This issue is discussed in the article by the New York Times called “Reigning in College Tuition” that claims the tuition keeps rising faster than the salary from the working class families and that it is becoming more difficult to keep up with the costs of getting a degree.

College Dream or Nightmare?

Ever since its Open-Admissions policy the CUNY system has allowed many students with many backgrounds to experience college life. This creates a major gap in the selection of candidates for higher education institutions, therefore subjecting those with inferior educational background to crowd the public institutions. When this occurs students usually face the prospect of leaving their classes because they don’t feel that the teachers are giving them enough attention or that it is impossible to learn in a class of one hundred or more students. According to Clark, “the conflict between open-door admission and performance of high quality often means a wide discrepancy between the hopes of entering students and the means of their realization” (Clark 571). Clark claims that students who are unable to meet the college standards are usually given an incentive to change their aspirations, lowering their career goals and choosing an easier path towards obtaining their college degree. By performing the “cooling-out” function, students must either accept to lower their standards or they are automatically set up for failure or dropping-out, specially the ones who refuse to accept the reality of their situation.

The tendency that society has of separating people into categories is also an issue often observed inside the higher education institutions.  As in many hierarchies, college also has the tendency of having many levels of dominance. The dominated, being the “inferior” group, knows what to expect in terms of equality, or lack thereof, in society and even accepts it. According to Bourdieu, “the dominated perceive the dominant through the categories that the relation of domination has produced and which are thus identical to the interests of the dominant.” (Bourdieu) By saying this, Bourdieu claims that predispositions to certain types of provisions or cultural behavior are introduced at an early age in children either intentionally or unintentionally by their parents or media or even society, directing them to their suitable social positions later in life. This apparent dominance drives people to accept their position in society no matter what that position entails. The people who possess the qualities and the means for a better life usually hold a better position in society and believe that those who are underprivileged only have themselves to blame for their lack of resources.

Another issue that students must face when thinking about their future careers is the price they must pay for it. The increasing cost of tuition in public colleges has been alarming and it just keeps rising making it very difficult for the working class to achieve their dream of getting a degree. According to the New York Times issue of April 02, 2012, “by one estimate, the cost of four-year public college tuition has tripled since the 1980s, outpacing both inflation and family income” (“Reigning In College Tuition” 20) meaning that the state has been assisting the higher education institutions financially less and less in the past three decades causing the staggering rise in tuition. This only results in families borrowing money so that they’re kids can finish their degrees in a timely manner.

The College Bubble

Ever since I started attending classes atQueensCollegeI have noticed that some classrooms are teeming with students. I have experienced this overcrowded feeling at my Art & Music classes, Computer Science Lectures, but specially Economics 101 classes because one of these classes were taught by more than one professor, students were not the only ones falling asleep, but the professor was also falling asleep. My previous Economics professor refused to retire and this resulted in the delegation of his work to his tutors, this meant that he wasn’t grading our papers and that he would allow us up to seven hours to take the midterm and the finals. He would first post our “sample” midterms online with answers so that we could study from them.

But in the end, his tests had absolutely nothing to do with what he taught resulting in a lot of the students dropping-out of his class. Many students were cheating and many didn’t even show up. I worked very hard to get good grades in his class, such as sitting down with the tutors instead of attending his lectures because I would learn and understand better that way.

Another one ofQueensCollege’s setbacks is the staff’s unwillingness to provide assistance to the students because they feel so superior to everybody else. This concept of dominance is presented in Bourdieu’s article that emphasizes how society is divided unevenly into the dominant and the dominated. I often experience this feeling when I need to adjust my bill at the Bursar’s office or need advice about financial aid.

I have to admit that I try to avoid going into those offices at all costs, because I despise waiting in line and despise even more dealing with the staff. They can oftentimes be disrespectful and condescending towards the students, I have even heard the faculty complain about them. They have moved their offices to the Q Café part of campus and hopefully their service will now improve and their attitude will be adjusted accordingly.

One of the main reasons the open-admissions policy was created was to reduce the amount of social inequalities between students that were to attend college. This was not an easy accomplishment, since the focus was mostly social background based on race or ethnicity, but not really on financial background or abilities. In addition to those problems I have mentioned above, another problem that upsets me is the high cost of tuition. Even though some people may believe that it is affordable to study at QC, I’ve had to drop-out a few semesters because I could not afford to pay the bill and was not eligible for financial aid because of my income.


The picture above shows my bill for two semesters at Queens College, it would be great if somebody could explain to me the meaning of a “student activity fee”. If I hadn’t quit my job, I would never be eligible for financial aid. I only hope that I will be able to hang on until graduation next year, because it’s not easy to feed and clothe four children, being single and unemployed, but it’s a fight I’m willing to win.

My Queens College Utopia

I have always imagined my life in college would be a little different that everything I have experienced before. I have to admit that it was difficult to come back to school after many years, and once I started it, it was even more difficult to deal with the many problems that come with the school policies, such as the argument I have presented before like the jam-packed classrooms, college staff and the excessive cost of tuition. Unfortunately there are other issues to be visited, like the lack of parking space in campus, the need for food choices in the cafeterias because it would be nice to see a chinese or subway restaurant, also more social events to get students interested to form a “school spirit”. In my opinion, maybe a future look at the cooling-out function could bring these problems to an end.

I have learned throughout my college experience that nothing comes easily and that hard work gets rewarded most of the time. Financial and social obstacles arise very often and students must face the difficult choices of life. I have also learned that juggling schoolwork and family are not easy tasks and that last minute decisions need to be made in order to accomplish my goals successfully.


Works Cited:

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Economy of Symbolic Goods.” Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Trans. Randal Johnson. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. Print.

Clark, Burton. “The ‘Cooling-Out’ Function in Higher Education.” The American Journal of Sociology 65.6 (1960): 569-576. Print.

“Reigning In College Tuition.” New York Times.,n.p.03 February 2012.Web

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