Socioeconomic Status at The University of Michigan

Last year I took an intergroup dialogue course focused on the subject of socioeconomic status (SES). When you sign up for the course you fill out a survey on your demographics such as: SES, race, religion etc. This process is done so that the classes can be compiled based on diversity. For example, when selecting students for a class on the topic of race, IGR makes sure to include even numbers of students with different racial backgrounds to allow for the most productive dialogue. Interesting enough, my socioeconomic status section had a large majority of middle to upper middle class students. Most of us were disappointed with this ratio of students because it made our discussion less productive. It was very difficult to talk about the issue at hand when majority of the students in the dialogue had similar backgrounds. So, one day we contemplated why the demographics of our class were this way.

Attending a prestige school like the University of Michigan is expensive, especially for out of state students. Although our school does its best to accommodate students who cannot afford the tuition, other schools do better. This means that our school is compiled of students who come from families with a relatively high socioeconomic status. According to a Michigan Daily article, “In Fall 2011, 63 percent of incoming freshmen reported family incomes over $100,000, according to the Office of the Registrar. A 2012 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau stated the median family income in the United States is $51,324.” This statistic shows how the family incomes of our student’s do not accurately represent the country.

When discussing this in our dialogue last semester, we also talked about the advantages of socioeconomic status. Someone suggested a perspective on the issue that really stuck with me. They said that when looking at life like a playing field, people with higher SES automatically start ahead of others. We demonstrated this by an activity called the privilege walk where based off of statements being read about privilege we either stepped forward or backwards.

Students getting ready to participate in the Privilege Walk.

At the end of the activity we could see who was in the front, the middle, or the back. This represented where people would “start” in life and how many people were at a disadvantage.

Students positioned after finishing Privilege Walk.

When relating this back to the University of Michigan, one could infer that the SES of our students helped them to attend this university in more ways then tuition. They may have had resources like tutors, attending a better school, and the ability to participate in more extracurricular activities. Of course there are many students at this school who come from different and unique backgrounds also. What we learned from this dialogue is not that the University of Michigan has too many students who come from privileged backgrounds; but rather, the institution does not do enough to make it possible for students from less privileged backgrounds to attend.

In Burke’s, “Reflections on The Revolution in France” he talks about how upward mobility and equality are bad. When looking at the University of Michigan Burke would not think the statistics of family incomes are a bad thing. He would believe that the top social classes should attend college. Since one way to move up in class is to get a better education that leads to a better job, he would also think that people of lower social class do not deserve this privilege. This New York Times article talks about how the education gap in the U.S. is growing between rich and poor. It would have been interesting to see how Burke would respond to this growing issue in America, though one can assume he would not find it an issue.

I disagree with Burke. I think the best way to improve major issues in our country is through education. This directly relates to upward mobility because if people were able to obtain better educations they would eventually be able to earn more and move up in society. I think that the University of Michigan needs to do a better job to increase the diversity of students on campus in order to more accurately reflect the population in our country; however, I understand that this is a tough and controversial issue that has been discussed for decades. The Program on Intergroup Relations does a great job of getting these difficult conversations started. It t is my hope that one day students in our school will be able to learn from their peers’ diversity more easily.

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One thought on “Socioeconomic Status at The University of Michigan

  1. I agree with the sentiment of your post. It would be great if more people from lower-income families were able to attend a prestigious school like the University of Michigan and would consequently have a greater access to higher-paying jobs. However, looking at it realistically, not everyone can occupy the upper class; if that were true, there would be no upper class. Many say that those in good fiscal standing got that way through hard work and sacrifice. That said, there are only a certain number of spots U of M can offer to applicants, and if we come up with more financial aid to preference students from lower-income families, what becomes of the children of those who worked hard to come up with the money by themselves? Either way you look at it, it isn’t going to go well for someone. Either way, someone is going to lose. I think it would be difficult to justify a preference to either party.

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