Like the USA and UK, Australia is currently attempting to increase the number of working-class students at its universities. I have recently published a short piece in Higher Education Research and Development in which I argue that Australia’s social and education researchers need to focus their efforts on identifying the best approaches towards facilitating these students’ success at uni (Rubin, 2012). In particular, we need to consider how to increase the social integration of working-class students at uni.
In a recent review of American research, I’ve shown that working-class students are significantly less integrated at uni than middle-class students (for more, see here). This is a problem because there’s clear evidence that social integration positively predicts academic performance and persistence.
Social integration is likely to be particularly important for working-class students because many of them are the first in their families to attend university and, consequently, they are less likely to get helpful advice from their parents about how to navigate university life. For example, when a working-class student falls ill and asks their parents what to do about their late coursework assignment, their parents may tell them to do the best they can and submit on time. But middle-class parents, who've been at uni, are likely to suggest applying for an extended due date. It’s for this sort of reason that I think it's vital for working-class students to make friends at uni. Uni friends can provide valuable informational and social support that helps fill the experience gap of working-class students. In short, uni friends can help show working-class students the ropes.
In my article, I argue that we need more research in this area in order to figure out the main causes of working-class students' social exclusion. The results of this research will inform the best approaches towards increasing working-class students’ social integration and give them a better chance of succeeding at uni.
Rubin, M. (2012). Working-class students need more friends at university: a cautionary note for Australia's higher education equity initiative Higher Education Research & Development, 31 (3), 431-433 DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2012.689246 Free access available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/vfyypRnNZK27hiH5WDQ8/full