Beyond the gates: An exploration of socioeconomically disadvantaged students navigating the University of Pennsylvania

Kenneth D Grcich, University of Pennsylvania


The focus on the inclusion of the socioeconomically disadvantaged at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and other elite institutions is directly related to access: enrollment, representation, and retention. As Penn and other elite institutions commit to seeking greater economic diversity, attention must be paid to the challenges faced and the support necessary for students with a low socioeconomic status (low SES). The purpose of this study is to explore how low SES students navigate the University of Pennsylvania. I examined the perceived benefits of attending an elite institution; the challenges of being socioeconomically disadvantaged in an elite culture; and the means and methods these students use to navigate the institution and the collegiate experience. The protocol of the qualitative research study consists of strategic open-ended inquiries asked to each of the nineteen participants in individual interviews. The dissertation analysis framework was conducted using Pierre Bourdieu's theory of cultural capital and its understanding to elucidate the structure and functioning of the social world. The participants in the study did not matriculate to an elite institution to gain social or cultural capital. Moreover, the participants reported having minimal interaction with their affluent peers. Through their limited interactions and observations, they were able to participate in an affluent collegiate environment among those from a high socioeconomic background, often resulting in the rejection of the affluent students' habitus. Habitus is a complex concept, but in its most simple usage could be understood as a set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior, beliefs, taste, and disposition (aesthetic, ethical, and political). The research contributes to the limited study of low SES students attending elite institutions and presents recommendations for the University of Pennsylvania to sfrive for greater social equity.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Grcich, Kenneth D, "Beyond the gates: An exploration of socioeconomically disadvantaged students navigating the University of Pennsylvania" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3310480.