Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities

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Overview

Building on their important findings in The Source of the River, the authors now probe even more deeply into minority underachievement at the college level. Taming the River examines the academic and social dynamics of different ethnic groups during the first two years of college. Focusing on racial differences in academic performance, the book identifies the causes of students' divergent grades and levels of personal satisfaction with their institutions.

Using survey data collected from twenty-eight selective colleges and universities, Taming the River considers all facets of student life, including who students date, what fields they major in, which sports they play, and how they perceive their own social and economic backgrounds. The book explores how black and Latino students experience pressures stemming from campus racial climate and "stereotype threat"--when students underperform because of anxieties tied to existing negative stereotypes. Describing the relationship between grade performance and stereotype threat, the book shows how this link is reinforced by institutional practices of affirmative action. The authors also indicate that when certain variables are controlled, minority students earn the same grades, express the same college satisfaction, and remain in school at the same rates as white students.

A powerful look at how educational policies unfold in America's universities, Taming the River sheds light on the social and racial factors influencing student success.

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Editorial Reviews

Review of Higher Education
Taming the River provides pivotal insights into the experiences of students based on racial differences at elite institutions. Despite its heavy emphasis on quantitative findings, readers can easily understand the data presented in this book. The authors' depiction of the challenges that many students, especially Black and Latino students, face while navigating the first two years of their higher education experience will hopefully inspire readers to develop educational programs to assist these students during this critical phase.
— Jennifer S. Cortes
Times Higher Education - Roger Brown
An insightful study of scholastic performance and ethnicity on US campuses. . . . The increasing relative underperformance of US higher education, and especially the variations in academic achievement and persistence between students from different ethnic and socio-economic groups, has recently spawned a plethora of scholarly studies. This book is one of the most important.
Teachers College Record - Stanley Katz
Fascinating and important for anyone who cares about managing diversity in higher education.
Review of Higher Education - Jennifer S. Cortes
Taming the River provides pivotal insights into the experiences of students based on racial differences at elite institutions. Despite its heavy emphasis on quantitative findings, readers can easily understand the data presented in this book. The authors' depiction of the challenges that many students, especially Black and Latino students, face while navigating the first two years of their higher education experience will hopefully inspire readers to develop educational programs to assist these students during this critical phase.
From the Publisher

"An insightful study of scholastic performance and ethnicity on US campuses. . . . The increasing relative underperformance of US higher education, and especially the variations in academic achievement and persistence between students from different ethnic and socio-economic groups, has recently spawned a plethora of scholarly studies. This book is one of the most important."--Roger Brown, Times Higher Education

"Fascinating and important for anyone who cares about managing diversity in higher education."--Stanley Katz, Teachers College Record

"Taming the River provides pivotal insights into the experiences of students based on racial differences at elite institutions. Despite its heavy emphasis on quantitative findings, readers can easily understand the data presented in this book. The authors' depiction of the challenges that many students, especially Black and Latino students, face while navigating the first two years of their higher education experience will hopefully inspire readers to develop educational programs to assist these students during this critical phase."--Jennifer S. Cortes, Review of Higher Education

"Taming the River is a well written and compelling read that uses sound research and analysis based in strong foundations of sociology and social psychology. The book clearly stimulates thought about institutional, state, and federal policies."--Noah D. Drezner, Journal of College Student Retention

Times Higher Education
An insightful study of scholastic performance and ethnicity on US campuses. . . . The increasing relative underperformance of US higher education, and especially the variations in academic achievement and persistence between students from different ethnic and socio-economic groups, has recently spawned a plethora of scholarly studies. This book is one of the most important.
— Roger Brown
Teachers College Record
Fascinating and important for anyone who cares about managing diversity in higher education.
— Stanley Katz
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691139647
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/23/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Camille Z. Charles is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Social Sciences, and professor of sociology, education, and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Mary J. Fischer is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. Margarita A. Mooney is assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Douglas S. Massey is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.
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Read an Excerpt

Taming the River

Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities
By Camille Z. Charles Mary J. Fischer Margarita A. Mooney Douglas S. Massey

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2009 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13964-7


Chapter One

Entering the Current

A contentious debate has raged over race-conscious admissions policies at selective U.S. colleges and universities since the end of the civil rights era. After decades of exclusion, the nation's elite colleges and universities, beginning in the 1970s, undertook a series of "affirmative actions" designed to ensure the inclusion of formerly underrepresented minorities within bastions of academic privilege. Overnight, college admissions officials sought to transform prestigious campuses from citadels of whiteness into diverse reflections of an increasingly multiracial society. Owing to their historical exclusion from selective institutions of higher education, minority group members generally lacked the family connections that would entitle them to special consideration as "legacy" students. At the same time, owing to the ongoing segregation and stratification of American education, Latinos and African Americans often lacked the academic preparation necessary to succeed in a very competitive admissions process. Paradoxically they also lacked athletic experience, not in football or basketball, but in elite sports such as swimming, tennis, golf, lacrosse, squash, fencing, and water polo that together account for a large share of athletic recruitments at selective institutions.

Inevitably, therefore, efforts by college administrators to incorporate underrepresented minorities somehow had to take race and ethnicity into account, quickly leading to charges of "reverse racism" and "affirmative discrimination" (see Lokos 1971; Glazer 1976). Over the ensuing decades the fight over race-sensitive admissions was enjoined on a variety of fronts-political, legal, administrative, and academic. As with many contentious public issues, a salient feature of the debate on affirmative action was a lack of reliable information about its implementation and effects. To remedy this situation, William G. Bowen and Derek Bok, in the mid-1990s launched the College and Beyond Survey, which surveyed the 1979 and 1989 cohorts of freshmen from a set of selective colleges and universities, seeking to learn about their college experiences and subsequent achievements.

These data, summarized in The Shape of the River (1998), documented the positive consequences of affirmative action for minority students, their communities, and for American society generally in the years following the students' college graduation. The authors argued that instead of abandoning the social experiment, Americans should seek to know more about "the shape of the river" (borrowing a phrase from Mark Twain) and should consider the multiple "downstream" benefits to society as minority students' lives unfolded over many years, weighing these against whatever short-term costs might be incurred by taking race and ethnicity into account during college admissions.

As is often the case with social science research, The Shape of the River raised as many questions as it answered, for it also uncovered significant differentials between racial and ethnic groups in their academic achievement during college. Among those admitted to selective institutions in the 1989 cohort, for example, 96% of Asians ultimately graduated, compared with 94% of whites, 90% of Latinos, but just 79% of African Americans. The groups also evinced substantial gaps in grade point average and time taken to graduate. More distressingly, these intergroup differentials persisted after controlling for the usual background variables, such as academic ability (SAT scores) and socioeconomic status (parental education and income).

Sorting out which factors contributed to academic success at selective institutions was impossible using the College and Beyond Survey, given that it interviewed students long after their college years had ended. In order to examine the determinants of academic achievement directly, a new prospective study known as the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen (NLSF) was launched. Large, representative samples of white, Asian, Latino, and black freshmen entering twenty-eight selective colleges and universities in the fall of 1999 were surveyed and reinterviewed in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, essentially following the cohort of freshmen entering Bowen and Bok's sample of schools as they became sophomores, juniors, and, ultimately for most, graduating seniors.

The baseline survey-a personal interview lasting up to two hours-gathered detailed information about students' lives up to the point of their arrival on campus and compiled comprehensive data on their attitudes, expectations, and values. The first book analyzing these data sought to document background differences between groups and to determine their effects on academic achievement during the very first term of college. Continuing Bowen and Bok's metaphor, Massey et al. (2003) called their book The Source of the River, for it documented individual and group characteristics with respect to family, neighborhood, school, and peer settings-that is, the social origins or "source" of the "river" of students entering elite schools during 1999. After describing intergroup differences along a variety of social and economic dimensions, the authors estimated statistical models to determine their effect on initial academic performance during the first term in college.

The current volume picks up where The Source of the River left off. Rather than dwelling on where the students came from, we build on this knowledge to move forward and examine the social and academic experiences of students during the first two years of college. Recent research suggests that most of the improvements in substantive knowledge and academic skill that take place in college transpire in the first two years (Osterlind 1996, 1997), especially in math and science (Flowers et al. 2001). Choices made as freshmen and sophomores-about which courses to take, which majors to select, which professors to seek out, and how much time to devote to academic pursuits-thus have strong effects in constraining or enhancing later academic possibilities (Pascarella and Terenzini 2005).

In a very real way, therefore, the first two years of college constitute the foundation upon which future academic and intellectual achievements will ultimately be built. Continuing the river metaphor begun by Bowen and Bok (1998), we now turn to consider the experiences of students as they wade into the crosscutting currents of college life and begin the long process of taming the river of higher education. Before examining the nature of these crosscurrents and the degree to which students are successful in taming them, however, we recap what we have learned-substantively and theoretically-about student origins and their influence on academic achievement from The Source of the River.

Substantive Lessons from The Source

The NLSF baseline survey offered the first in-depth look at the characteristics not only of blacks, Latinos, and Asians entering America's prestigious institutions of higher education but also of European-origin whites. The process of admission to elite institutions of higher education has never been strictly "meritocratic" and certainly not "scientific" in any meaningful sense of the word. Gaining admission to an elite school has always depended on a complicated alchemy that blends academic qualifications, athletic abilities, geographical location, gender considerations, family connections, and personal interests, not to mention more random chance than most students and college admissions offices would care to admit (Shulman and Bowen 2001; Steinberg 2002.

Among the various "nonacademic" admissions criteria routinely considered in college admissions, race and ethnicity have received by far the greatest attention and the lion's share of the public criticism (see Curry 1996). Minority affirmative action, however, is just one of three large preferential admissions programs common at America's selective colleges and universities (Massey and Mooney 2007). In addition to underrepresented minorities, elite schools also give extra consideration to athletes (Shulman and Bowen 2001) and the children of alumni (Karabel 2005). Indeed, statistical analyses show that being an athlete or the child of an alumnus greatly increases the odds of admission to a selective college or university, controlling for a variety of personal and academic variables (Espenshade, Chung, and Walling 2004). In practice, moreover, both athletic and "legacy" recruitment enhance the already advantaged position of affluent whites in the competition for scarce entry slots (Golden 2006; Schmidt 2007), leading some to call for colleges to pay greater attention to social class in the admissions process (Bowen et al. 2005).

Consistent with these findings, The Source of the River documented stark differences in socioeconomic background across racial and ethnic groups. Whatever the particular alchemy prevailing in college admissions during 1999, the selection criteria then in force produced socially and economically homogeneous cohorts of white freshmen but diverse cohorts of black and Latino freshmen. Although Asians were slightly more diverse than their white counterparts, their backgrounds were much closer to those of whites than to those of other minority groups. The typical white or Asian student grew up in an intact family and attended a resource-rich suburban or private school; both parents were college graduates; most fathers held an advanced degree and worked at a professional or managerial job; a large plurality of mothers also held advanced degrees, and most also worked in a white-collar occupation, thus yielding a family income high enough to enable ownership of a valuable home.

In contrast to this relatively clear portrait of homogeneous socioeconomic privilege among white and Asian students, it was virtually impossible to generalize about the socioeconomic status or demographic background of Latino and black students. They were just as likely to be the children of well-heeled, highly educated suburban professionals as to be the offspring of single, inner-city welfare mothers who never finished high school. The most salient feature about black and Latino freshmen was their social, economic, and demographic diversity. They came from all walks of life and all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Prior research has documented a sharp divergence in child-rearing practices along the lines of both class (Kohn 1985; Lareau 2000) and race (Lareau 2003). Whereas middle-class white parents generally adopt a strategy of "concerted cultivation" in raising and educating their children, lower-class and minority parents tend to stand back more passively and simply facilitate "the accomplishment of natural growth" (Lareau 2003: 2-3). Thus, middle- and upper-class parents are very directly involved in scheduling their children's time, participating in their educational decisions, interacting with teachers and counselors, and promoting a sense of autonomy and, ultimately, entitlement among their children. In contrast, working-class and poor parents assume a more passive role in their children's development, deferring to educational authorities, promoting obedience at home and school, and leaving children to interact among themselves rather than organizing their lives, all of which tend to produce a "sense of constraint" rather than entitlement among less-advantaged children.

Consistent with Lareau's work, The Source of the River showed that students in different racial and ethnic groups experienced very different styles of child rearing while growing up. Whites generally reported a supportive, companionate style of child rearing, as one would expect given their high average class standing. Parents were involved in their lives, knew their friends, took an active role in developing their educational skills, and were reluctant to make use of punishment, shame, or guilt to secure compliant behavior. Instead they used reasoning and explanation to encourage autonomy, independence, and self-regulation. In contrast, black parents were much less involved in cultivating their children's educational skills and monitoring their social relationships, and they relied more heavily on a regime of reward and punishment combined with strict limits on behavior, though without much reliance on guilt or shame. Asian parents were the least companionate and in terms of discipline the strictest of all groups. In addition to relying heavily on punishment to secure compliant behavior, they were also the most likely to employ guilt and shame as a strategy in child raising, and they were largely uninvolved in cultivating their children's educational or social skills. As parents, Latinos were a mixed bag-generally more authoritarian and less companionate than white parents, and less involved in their children's education or social relations, but relatively unlikely to rely on shame and guilt as tools in child rearing.

American culture historically has employed a "one-drop rule" to define race, labeling all people with any discernable African ancestry as "black" (Sweet 2005) and thus rendering race what sociologists call a "master status," a categorization that trumps others and renders diversity within the black population largely invisible to white Americans (Hughes 1945). Nonetheless, recent work has underscored the growing diversity of America's black population (Kasinitz 1992; Spencer 1997; Waters 1999; Rockquemore and Bunsma 2002), especially on college campuses (Smith and Moore 2000; Charles, Torres, and Brunn 2007; Massey et al. 2007). Apart from documenting the heterogeneity of African Americans with respect to socioeconomic status and family background, The Source of the River revealed diversity along three additional dimensions, the first of which was gender. Specifically, on the campuses of elite colleges and universities, black males were hugely underrepresented relative to black females. Whereas white, Asian, and Latino freshmen evinced a rough parity between male and female students, black women outnumbered black men by a margin of two to one, with obvious implications for dating, mating, and gender dynamics, issues that we will explore later in this volume.

In addition, we found that immigrants and the children of immigrants were hugely overrepresented among black freshmen at elite institutions. Whereas first- and second-generation immigrants constituted only around 13% of 18-19-year-old African Americans in 1999, they comprised a quarter of all black freshmen entering elite institutions that year (Massey et al. 2007). Although large fractions of Asian and Latino freshmen were also of immigrant origin, in these groups the high percentage of immigrants and their children accurately reflected conditions in the general population. Whereas 97% of Asians and 73% of Latinos in the NLSF were first- or second-generation immigrants, their respective shares in the population of 18-19-year-olds were 91% and 66% (Massey et al. 2007).

Finally, The Source of the River reported that biracial children were substantially overrepresented among African American freshmen. Whereas only around 4% of blacks identify themselves as multiracial nationwide (Spencer 1997), 17% of black freshmen in the NLSF did so, suggesting that a rather large share of black freshmen at selective schools had at least one nonblack parent. Black diversity with respect to class background, when combined with an overrepresentation of foreign and multiracial origins, virtually guarantees a lengthy conversation among African American students on campus about what it means to be "black" and what the "true" components of a black identity really are (Torres and Charles 2004; Charles, Torres, and Brunn 2008; Torres 2008). For collegiate African Americans, especially, racial identity is more problematic and contentious than it used to be.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Taming the River by Camille Z. Charles Mary J. Fischer Margarita A. Mooney Douglas S. Massey Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Tables and Figures vii
Acknowledgments xi
Chapter 1: Entering the Current 1
Chapter 2: Staying Afloat Academically 22
Chapter 3: Staying Afloat Socially 71
Chapter 4: Staying Afloat Financially 99
Chapter 5: Battling Social Undercurrents 119
Chapter 6: The Hidden Rocks of Segregation 150
Chapter 7: The Shoals of Stereotypes 173
Chapter 8: The Wake from Affirmative Action 188
Chapter 9: College at Midstream 205
Appendix A: Questionnaire Used in Spring of Freshman Year 235
Appendix B: Questionnaire Used in Spring of Sophomore Year 252
Appendix C: Construction of Social Scales 273
References 279
Index 295
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