Today, higher education is the most prominent site

Today, higher education is the most prominent site for social mobility. A college degree not only provides the necessary credentials for higher-paying jobs, but also exposes the individual to social connections and essential knowledge that can potentially afford them a better chance at moving up the socioeconomic ladder. Despite the fact that a college degree does not guarantee employment in American society, it can be the defining factor between being employed or unemployed. As new technology in the workplace advances, the educational requirements in the labor market rise. As low-skilled positions increase the required educational certifications, high-skilled jobs upgrade similarly, making it difficult for people to secure a job without a college degree (Collins 2015). Why does this happen?Such rapid changes in the job market cause an increasingly larger portion of the population to spend longer periods of time in the educational system, not necessarily as means of knowledge cultivation but as a hopeful investment in their human capital—the collective and cumulative skills, experiences, and knowledge that can potentially generate economic profits (Becker 1975). However, not everyone reaps similar results from the same kinds of human investment. In their longitudinal research, Ostrove and Long (2007) studied the effects of professional aspirations on the educational outcomes of first-generation college students. insert study method Their findings revealed that nine years after graduation, students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds had lower salaries and lower graduate school enrollment rates than students from more privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. We have been socialized to believe in the American Dream, the mystical promise that everyone who works hard enough, even those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, can make it to the top, but how accurate is this narrative?Although the number of young people applying to and attending institutions of higher education has soared throughout the decades, the enrollment rates of working-class students have remained low compared to other social class groupings (Turner 2004). But why? Even when working-class students obtain access to college, research has shown they are more likely to enroll as part-time students, live at home while attending college, and complete significantly fewer credits in comparison to continuing-generation students (Pascarella et al. 2004).This thesis will outline the complex experiences of working-class and first-generation college students in American colleges and universities that hinder an equal educational outcome, and therefore, equal opportunities for professional and personal fulfillment. The definition I will employ throughout this thesis for first-generation students is students whose parents did not enroll in college and therefore have no knowledge or familiarity with college culture.  Correspondingly, students who come from a social group who work manual and industrial jobs for wages, perhaps paycheck to paycheck, will be defined as working-class. Instead of offering your own definitions, give a range of definitions from the studies you cite and explain that researchers don’t have agreed upon definitions of these.The literature describes the experience of first-generation and working-class students in higher education as an alienating experience, where students consider themselves cultural outsiders due to their lack prior exposure to middle-class norms (Ostrove and Long 2007; Lightweis 2014; Aronson 2008; Inkelas et al. 2006; Pike and Kuh 2005; Soria and Stebleton 2013; Terenzini et al. 1996; Pascarella et al. 2004; Aries and Seider 2005; Wentworth and Peterson 2001). The objective of this thesis is to bring such experiences of isolation to light and examine how they structure the students’ college experiences socially, culturally, and academically. Furthermore, I will analyze the narratives of self, constructed around their first-generation and working-class identities, and the role they play in their cultural assimilation and opportunities of upward social mobility.Although I will be discussing first-generation and working-class college students’ struggles simultaneously, as they share some of the same social and cultural disadvantages, this does not mean that every first-generation college student comes from a working-class background, nor does it mean that every working-class student is the first in their family to attend an institution of higher education. The intention of this thesis is not to render all personal occurrences into one general experience, but to shed a light on the most prominent obstacles first-generation and low-income students face, and bring these invisible issues into our discussion of what higher education is and what it should be. As a first-generation and working-class student myself, I understand that these experiences might vary depending on race, gender, and type of institution they attend.